If Manitoba's political and public health leaders have shown us anything through the interminable pandemic, it has been a chronic failure to respond urgently and effectively to new threats. Friday served as the most recent case in point.
Just three weeks after removing the indoor mask mandate and ending restrictions on unvaccinated Manitobans, Health Minister Audrey Gordon and Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, confirmed Friday that both measures are back.
The mask mandate for indoor public places goes into effect Saturday at 12 a.m. Restrictions on unvaccinated Manitobans — who will be prohibited from attending indoor and outdoor concerts and sporting events, restaurants and bars, casinos and bingo halls, fitness centres and indoor recreational facilities — take effect at the stroke of midnight Sept. 3.
Manitoba is justified in applying more pressure on the unvaccinated. Similar restrictions are being implemented rapidly throughout the world to underline the threat posed by those people who, for whatever weak reason, continue to resist COVID-19 vaccines.
And, along with requirements that all public-facing provincial civil servants — including health-care workers, teachers and support staff in both health and education — be fully vaccinated, the new restrictions on what the unvaccinated can do and where they can go should help to prompt some of them to get with the program.
Manitoba is justified in applying more pressure on the unvaccinated.
However, to see the folly in the Pallister government's approach, you need to take stock of what was missing from the new orders.
Although bar and restaurant patrons do need to be fully vaccinated, the people who work there do not.
You also do not have to be fully vaccinated to shop in non-essential businesses, attend faith-based services and — most importantly — there are no restrictions of any kind on social gatherings. As was the case in previous pandemic waves, the unmasked mingling in basements, great rooms and backyards presents an enormous potential for outbreaks. Particularly if you throw a few unvaccinated people into the mix.
In keeping with a tried, true and muddled communications strategy, neither Roussin nor Gordon could explain why exceptions were being made in the most recent public health orders. The best Roussin could muster was a repeated reference to these being "the rules that we'll bring in for now."
The uneven and untimely application of restrictions, along with an insistence on using half-measures when more forceful restrictions are justified, are now the unmistakable hallmarks of Manitoba's pandemic response. It's a strategy that has not only been repeatedly decried by scientists and public health experts outside government, it has also produced two of North America's deadliest outbreaks of COVID-19.
To describe the Manitoba approach as incorrigible doesn't capture the magnitude of willfully blind obstinance at work. The first time you make a mistake, that signifies a deeply flawed approach. When you keep making the same mistakes, you get increasingly closer to incompetence.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is extremely contagious, airborne and primarily, although not exclusively, transmitted between people in indoor locations. Any indoor location. Despite this irrefutable scientific reality, the Pallister government has consistently allowed some indoor locations greater liberties than others based on who uses them and what they are doing.
Church-goers will make a strong argument that gathering with like-minded community members for a celebration of faith is different and possibly even more essential than visiting a movie theatre, casino or attending a Jets game. And they're right.
But in epidemiological terms, all these places present the same risk of transmission. Allowing some of these places to welcome unvaccinated people, but not others, is inconsistent and risky. Worse, it's confusing and unfair to the gross majority of people who have been courageously compliant with previous public health orders.
The story of this pandemic has always been about the struggle between people who willingly did the right thing — wore masks, resisted risky social interactions, accepted vaccinations — and those who are either too defiant or too lazy to do their part.
The story of this pandemic has always been about the struggle between people who willingly did the right thing ‐ wore masks, resisted risky social interactions, accepted vaccinations ‐ and those who are either too defiant or too lazy to do their part.
The social and economic restrictions we have been forced to employ to control COVID-19 may have started as the front line of defence against the virus. But now, on the precipice of a fourth wave, these restrictions are the price we all pay for the stubborn constituency who continue to throw caution to the wind.
As of Friday, there were still 172,000 eligible but unvaccinated Manitobans (12 and over) who have not had their first vaccine dose. If five per cent of those people (about 8,000) were to get moderately or severely sick, and require hospital admission, our health-care system would collapse into a cloud of dust.
You would think that given the number of unvaccinated Manitobans, and the threat posed by the more highly contagious delta variant, anyone and everyone involved in the provincial government's pandemic response knows that making non-sensical, anti-scientific exceptions for certain groups or types of indoor facilities no longer works.
You would think that, but you'd be wrong. In the face of a new threat from delta, Manitoba is once again applying a strategy that has repeatedly failed, in the hope that this time, things are going to work out.
This is clearly a government that would rather be lucky than good. And right now, it's neither.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.