Manitoba is reintroducing its indoor mask mandate and requiring doctors, teachers and other front-line workers in the public sector to get vaccinated or undergo frequent testing in an attempt to avoid a “tsunami” of a fourth COVID-19 wave.

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Manitoba is reintroducing its indoor mask mandate and requiring doctors, teachers and other front-line workers in the public sector to get vaccinated or undergo frequent testing in an attempt to avoid a "tsunami" of a fourth COVID-19 wave.

Premier Brian Pallister and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin unveiled a new policy Tuesday that will require provincial employees who work with vulnerable populations to be fully immunized by Oct. 31.

Staff who choose not to get the vaccine will be subject to regular testing — as often as three times a week for full-time employees — and must provide a negative test result in order to work.

"We need to get to higher ground to avoid the tsunami," Pallister told a news conference at the legislature.

"As we prepare for the fourth wave of the pandemic and the new school year, it is critical that we do everything we can to get all Manitobans who are eligible fully vaccinated and protect those who cannot get vaccinated."

Premier Brian Pallister and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin told a news conference Tuesday employees will have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31. (Jesse Boily / Winnipeg Free Press)</p></p>

Premier Brian Pallister and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin told a news conference Tuesday employees will have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31. (Jesse Boily / Winnipeg Free Press)

Designated public-sector workers include health-care providers who are in contact with patients, educational and child-care facility workers, public servants, staff in congregate settings and Manitoba Justice employees who work with vulnerable people and in correctional facilities.

Designated public sector employees

• Physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, support service staff and others who work in public and private health-care settings and provide direct care, meaning they come in contact with blood and body fluids, or with patients, residents or clients (or the environments or equipment one or multiple of those above three groups visit or use)

• Teachers, school and educational support staff, practicum students, bus drivers, custodial staff and other employees in the Kindergarden to Grade 12 public education sector

• Physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, support service staff and others who work in public and private health-care settings and provide direct care, meaning they come in contact with blood and body fluids, or with patients, residents or clients (or the environments or equipment one or multiple of those above three groups visit or use)

• Teachers, school and educational support staff, practicum students, bus drivers, custodial staff and other employees in the Kindergarden to Grade 12 public education sector

• Licensed early learning and child-care facilty staff and practicum students

• Public servants, including all MLAs

• Funded-agency employees who work in high-risk settings with direct, ongoing contact with the public or clients, such as those who work in congregate and residential settings or group homes, or with vulnerable populations including children

• Manitoba Justice staff members who work with vulnerable people and in correctional facilities

These employees must get their first vaccine dose by Sept. 7, be fully immunized before Halloween (they will need a followup shot two weeks prior to Oct. 31), and prove their vaccination status to avoid ongoing testing.

Roussin also encouraged private businesses to take similar steps and mandate vaccines in their workplaces.

"This mandatory vaccination requirement is just another layer of protection to ensure we can keep our kids back in school and keep them there safely," he said, noting the fourth wave is expected to affect mostly unvaccinated individuals.

He said the province continues to consider all possibilities, including suggestions that students in Grade 7 and beyond be immunized in order to attend classes.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin encouraged private businesses to take similar steps and mandate vaccines in their workplaces. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin encouraged private businesses to take similar steps and mandate vaccines in their workplaces. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Both Roussin and the premier said the new orders are in response to increasing concerns about fourth-wave projections and the rising number of cases in other jurisdictions.

It was not lost on NDP health care critic Uzoma Asagwara that earlier this month provincial officials were talking about the importance of shifting to recommendations rather than requirements as Manitoba looks toward a "post-pandemic" future.

The NDP MLA for Union Station criticized the province for being reactive, announcing few specifics related to testing the unvaccinated, and not going one step further to require people who are not immunized to provide proof of medical exemptions.

"It’s pretty clear, I think, at this point that the PC party, the PC caucus, is so focused on their own personal agendas, on their own personal endeavours that they continue to fail to prioritize the health and safety of Manitobans during this pandemic," Asagwara said.

Pallister and Roussin also announced the province will soon widen the list of activities and services open only to fully vaccinated residents in an effort to boost uptake.

The changes arrive when the number of Manitobans getting vaccinated has dropped to the point where the province is closing its supersite clinic in The Pas Wednesday and the one on Leila Avenue in northwest Winnipeg next week.

Manitoba is reintroducing its indoor mask mandate. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitoba is reintroducing its indoor mask mandate. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

More than 1.8 million doses of vaccine have been administered in Manitoba. Almost 76 per cent of eligible Manitobans have received two shots and approximately 81 per cent have had a single dose.

The vaccine is available to all Manitobans over the age of 12.

For Winnipeg mother Kylie Therrien, whose son will start Grade 1 next month alongside classmates who are not yet eligible to get immunized, the latest mask and vaccine announcements bring about "huge relief."

"I feel better about a lot of the safety measures that they’re taking," she said. "I’m much more concerned about the delta variant than I was about the regular COVID-19 variant, because it wasn’t affecting children as much."

Therrien, a member of Safe September MB, added she is frustrated about how long it took for the province to commit to universal safety measures in classrooms across Manitoba.

In recent days, both Doctors Manitoba and the Manitoba Teachers' Society have launched campaigns in favour of implementing vaccine mandates for employees in their respective sectors.

— With files from Kevin Rollason

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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