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The Pallister government can’t say it wasn’t warned.

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The Pallister government can’t say it wasn’t warned.

Just about every critical care doctor and infectious disease specialist in Manitoba was begging the province to bring in stricter public health measures last month, to avert a deadly third wave now overwhelming local hospitals.

Two critical care patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were transferred Tuesday to Thunder Bay, Ont. A third was moved to hospital in the Northern Ontario city Wednesday.

Manitoba has not only reached its pandemic ICU capacity, it has exceeded it. What emergency physicians and critical care docs predicted a few weeks ago if the province failed to prepare has come to bear.

It is another colossal failure.

Nearly three weeks ago, when cases skyrocketed in Ontario as COVID-19 variants were tearing through that province, officials in Manitoba insisted everything here was under control. There was no need for additional measures, deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said during an April 30 news conference.

"You see what’s happened in Ontario, you see what’s happened in other countries where the whole system’s basically collapsing," said Atwal. "Obviously, we’re not going to go down that road — that’s not going to happen here."

Well, it has.

There were 131 patients in ICUs Wednesday, eclipsing the peak of 129 during the second wave (normal ICU capacity is 72). Of those, 80 are COVID-19 patients — far above the peak of 55 in December.

If that’s not a system collapse, especially when critical care patients have to be shipped off to Thunder Bay, what is?

Atwal also dismissed suggestions during the same news conference that daily cases of COVID-19 could reach 500 again, as they had in November.

"I don’t foresee that happening in the next two weeks," he said. "We’re going to be in a lot better spot a few weeks from now than we are right now."

Nearly three weeks ago, when cases skyrocketed in Ontario as COVID–19 variants were tearing through that province, officials in Manitoba insisted everything here was under control.

Nine days later, Manitoba recorded 523 new cases of COVID-19; the day after, it was 502. Four days later, a record 560 new cases were identified.

Almost three weeks after the don’t-worry-be-happy message, the province’s test positivity rate has nearly doubled to 13.5 per cent (from 7.2 per cent).

It’s obvious there was no planning for the third wave. If provincial officials believed the situation was going to improve in a matter of weeks and Manitoba wouldn’t reach 500 cases a day, what’s there to plan for?

Instead, the messaging from government is residents should be happy the province "delayed the third wave."

It’s a political talking point Premier Brian Pallister has repeated several times; Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, used it this week. The only reason Manitoba’s cases are higher than other provinces is because they peaked before it did, he said.

"As they (other provinces) peaked and are trending downwards, we’ve delayed our third wave here," Roussin said Monday. "We’ve seen a number of jurisdictions each with their time as the hot spot, and now Manitoba will be there."

The difference is Manitoba’s peak during the third wave has been far higher than every "hot spot" in the country, except Alberta.

The number of new cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days was 442 in Manitoba on May 18. That’s higher than Ontario’s peak of 402 on April 24, and well-above Saskatchewan’s (308). Only Alberta had a higher 14-day peak, with 613 per 100,000 on May 10.

It’s obvious there was no planning for the third wave. If provincial officials believed the situation was going to improve in a matter of weeks and Manitoba wouldn’t reach 500 cases a day, what’s there to plan for?

Over the past seven days, Manitoba has the highest new cases per capita of any province (227 per 100,000).

Manitoba may have delayed its third wave, but by delaying stricter public health measures, it allowed the third wave to be far worse than almost every other province.

It’s costing lives and will result in long-term medical conditions for some. It also means public health orders implemented last week will likely be in force for a longer period of time. It will cost jobs and hurt businesses.

This could not have been more poorly managed.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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