Opinion

Let's get this straight.

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Let's get this straight.

Under new public health restrictions unveiled Monday by Premier Brian Pallister, no one will be allowed to visit another person's home, either indoors or outdoors, in any numbers, for at least four weeks.

But, at the same time, four people from different households can gather on the patio of a local bar or restaurant and share the same table without (obviously) having to wear masks.

And while gatherings of up to 10 people in a private backyard is no longer allowed, you can have a similar-sized gathering in a park or other public space.

If you're having trouble seeing the epidemiological wisdom in these rules, you are not alone.

This new round of public health restrictions — made necessary because of an alarming surge in new COVID-19 infections over the past two weeks — has been buried, once again, under a steaming pile of inconsistency that is casting serious doubt on Pallister's moral capacity to govern through the pandemic.

It should be noted that some of the restrictions make sense and are, in fact, way overdue.

The concession that allowed church-goers to take off their masks while attending an indoor service has thankfully been reversed; now, capacity for services has been reduced to no more than 10 people and worshippers must wear masks at all times.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, retail stores will have their capacities chopped again, while shopping mall food courts have been closed, which is probably a good idea.

And personal services, which involve very small numbers of people who are able to keep masks on during their procedures, have been left largely untouched.

But these reasonable decisions are largely obscured by the idiocy of the restaurant patio exception and the decision to allow groups of up to 10 to continue gathering outside, but only in public places.

With COVID-19 variants stalking us, there can be no reasonable explanation for allowing patio interactions. Clearly, the government is trying to throw some sort of bone to bars and restaurants, which are among the hardest hit businesses during the pandemic.

However, sharing a table (which does not allow for social distancing) and removing your mask (a necessity when eating and drinking) make any visit to a bar or restaurant risky.

The same concerns exist with outdoor social gatherings. The novel coronavirus is not less virulent in a public park than it is in someone's backyard. And while a public space is likely larger than most backyards, people who socialize in a park are likely to stand as close to others as they would in a private yard.

Which is to say, the risk is the same in both places.

At this critical stage in the pandemic, it's important the people in charge of the public health rules demonstrate they understand the basics of pandemic risk assessment, and that they are using the lessons of past mistakes to guide future actions.

The same concerns exist with outdoor social gatherings. The novel coronavirus is not less virulent in a public park than it is in someone's backyard. And while a public space is likely larger than most backyards, people who socialize in a park are likely to stand as close to others as they would in a private yard.

Pallister is not one of those people.

On Monday, he repeatedly said the third wave arrived "despite our best efforts" and that his government continues to respond "proactively" to control COVID-19 by introducing "the right kinds of restrictions, adopted at the right time to protect people in the right ways."

The premier should count himself lucky that acts of gross dishonesty are not punishable under the Public Health Act. None of what he said on Monday is even remotely true and his continued insistence on uttering those falsehoods defies all logic.

Even when he's asked directly about whether he takes any responsibility for the current surge in new infections, Pallister comes across as disingenuous. That was evident when a reporter dropped a snarky comment suggesting that in looking for the cause of the third wave, the premier should look in the mirror.

"I look in the mirror every day," Pallister shot back. "It's not that pleasant but I do it. And I look at myself for being responsible for every failure and I look at Manitobans being responsible for every success."

That's a pretty glib response. It was the premier's way of saying, 'You know, theoretically I'm totally responsible but then again, we've done everything we can and introduced the right restrictions at the right time. So, let's leave open the possibility that it's your fault.'

Manitobans might have been able to look beyond the dishonesty and the lack of accountability if somehow Pallister was able to eventually deliver public health rules that were fair and sensible. Rules that gave Manitobans a modicum of social and economic freedom, but under conditions that make them as safe as humanly possible.

As well, rules that clearly ban risky activities so that we can shorten the amount of time we have to live with restrictions of any kind.

Unfortunately, Monday dashed any hope this premier was going to wake up one day and, realizing the mistakes he had made in the past, embrace a new approach to pandemic rules that is based less on political gut instinct and more on science.

To the end, it seems, Pallister will be the picture of unrepentant and unaccountable.

And that makes him the wrong kind of leader, left in charge at the wrong time, coming up with the worst kinds of solutions.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

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.

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