The provincial government added a few tweaks to its public-health orders Thursday, but the new measures fall short of what many health professionals recommended.

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The provincial government added a few tweaks to its public-health orders Thursday, but the new measures fall short of what many health professionals recommended.

The new orders, which take effect Saturday at 12:01 a.m., extend restrictions imposed earlier this month that shuttered many businesses.

Measures that came into force on the Victoria Day long weekend — limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings to household members — have also been extended until June 12.

What's new is that employers will be required to allow employees to work from home as much possible, and shopping malls will face "increased requirements" to manage access and capacity and eliminate gatherings.

"These are tough measures because we're in a tough situation," Premier Brian Pallister said, referring to a hospital system that is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, many of them critically ill.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

"These are tough measures because we're in a tough situation," Premier Brian Pallister said, referring to a hospital system that is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, many of them critically ill.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin also served notice that he will act on existing powers that permit government to temporarily close businesses for health reasons.

"These are tough measures because we're in a tough situation," Premier Brian Pallister said, referring to a hospital system that is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, many of them critically ill.

"We will not get our lives back as rapidly if we don't have the buy-in from Manitobans to support these measures," he said.

Health system near 'collapse,' doctors issue urgent call for total lockdown

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MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES						</p>																	<p>ICU anesthesiologist Dr. Eric Jacobsohn says six people have died waiting for cardiac surgery during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.						</p>
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

ICU anesthesiologist Dr. Eric Jacobsohn says six people have died waiting for cardiac surgery during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Posted: 12:06 PM May. 25, 2021

Manitoba’s health-care system is “in danger of collapse” and people are dying as they wait for surgery, says a group of senior physicians and medical school professors who are calling for a total lockdown and implementation of full paid sick leave.

Six people have died waiting for cardiac surgery during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, said ICU anesthesiologist Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, adding there are about 20,000 patients in Manitoba who have had their surgeries deferred.

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Earlier in the week, a group of physicians called for greater restrictions, including the immediate closure of all non-essential businesses and the implementation of a stay-at-home order. The doctors also called on the province to introduce mandatory paid sick leave (rather than a voluntary program) as some other provinces have done.

So far, the Progressive Conservative government has not acted on the recommendations.

Winnipeg anesthesiologist Dr. Renate Singh said it seems that the government is relying more on the vaccination rollout than restrictions to save Manitobans from the current crisis.

"Earlier in the week my colleagues were calling for a true lockdown — so actually closing non-essential businesses and telling people to stay home in order to actually try and curb the transmission of this virus," she said.

Singh said Thursday it is "somewhat encouraging" that public-health officials are now addressing the issue of workplace transmission.

"The reality is that we needed this months ago. We needed this implemented in the fall and kept in place," she said.

“The reality is that we needed this months ago. We needed this implemented in the fall and kept in place.” – Dr. Renate Singh

The government also announced that remote learning for kindergarten to Grade 12 students in Winnipeg, Brandon and in the Red River Valley and Garden Valley school divisions will continue until June 7. Schools in Dauphin will continue remote learning until June 9.

The province reported Thursday that eight more Manitobans had died from COVID-19 — one of the highest single-day totals in recent months. The provincial death toll now stands at 1,042.

The latest deaths include a woman in her 30s from the Prairie Mountain health region infected with the B.1.1.7 variant; a man in his 60s from Prairie Mountain infected with an unspecified variant; two men in their 60s from Winnipeg; a Winnipeg man and woman, both in their 60s and infected with B.1.1.7; a Winnipeg woman in her 80s infected with the B.1.1.7 variant; and a man in his 80s from Southern Health-Sante Sud.

Roussin did not provide details on how the province would enforce the new order requiring employers to allow employees to work from home.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin also served notice that he will act on existing powers that permit government to temporarily close businesses for health reasons.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin also served notice that he will act on existing powers that permit government to temporarily close businesses for health reasons.

"We don't put things in the orders that we're not capable of looking at enforcement," he said. "If you're an employer and you have employees who can work remotely, we must do so."

Shopping malls will be expected to "ensure stronger compliance" with capacity limitations and are being directed to evict patrons who use their facilities as gathering spots," Roussin said.

Pressed on why the province didn't opt for stricter restrictions as numerous experts have advised, Roussin said: "We're fairly restricted already. There wasn't a lot more to restrict."

Answering the same question, the premier reiterated that Manitoba has some of the toughest — if not the toughest — public-health measures in the country.

A reporter pointed out that Ontario has shut down non-essential retail outlets while Manitoba has not; Pallister conceded the point but maintained that other restrictions here are "tighter" than in the neighbouring province.

“Right now we’re sending people out of province to places that had stricter health restrictions because we can’t get a handle on what’s happening here.” – Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont

The province's two opposition parties said the measures do not go far enough.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew called Thursday's announcement "underwhelming."

He said the government should also state what it considers to be the infection threshold (numbers of cases) that would lead to a temporary workplace shutdown.

"We should have a clear standard here in Manitoba," he said.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the government should have listened to the doctors' recommendations earlier this week.

"We need income supports so that people can stay home, we need a proper stay-at-home order and we need to shut down malls," he said. "Right now we’re sending people out of province to places that had stricter health restrictions because we can’t get a handle on what’s happening here."

— With files from Danielle Da Silva and Julia-Simone Rutgers

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

 

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Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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