Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba will announce the lifting of more COVID-19 restrictions next week after meeting its vaccination target a month early — but he doesn't expect anyone to say "Great job, Brian."
"I'm getting used to this after a year and a half," Pallister said at press conference Wednesday.
"I know most Manitobans — I understand, I've been told repeatedly — don't like me. They want everything to be different than we're doing, so what I've got now is a situation where I've got a tougher skin."
The premier hailed Manitoba for hitting its vaccination target a month ahead of schedule, with 75.1 per cent of those eligible having received at least one vaccine dose, and 53 per cent fully vaccinated, as of Wednesday. The original target was Aug. 2. Following the two-week incubation period recommended by public health officials, restrictions could be eased as soon as July 20.
"We're going in the right direction," Pallister said. "Our vaccine team is getting shots in arms faster right now, frankly, than any other province," he said. "I hope Manitobans appreciate how hard our team has worked," the premier said, while thanking Manitobans for getting vaccinated.
The reopening plan published last month had set Aug. 2 (Terry Fox Day) as the target to having 50 per cent or more capacity for businesses, increased gathering sizes, and loosened restrictions for particular sectors. Those are rough targets meant to be specified in advance.
The final milestone set by the province, for Labour Day, involves having 80 per cent of eligible Manitobans getting their first dose, and 75 per cent getting both doses.
Pallister said Wednesday that milestone could come much sooner; it would require roughly 33,000 more first doses and 100,000 second doses.
"We can do this," he said, applauding the success of community outreach projects to combat vaccine hesitancy. For example, a firm near Arborg hosted an immunization clinic that had a food truck and vaccination stickers in several languages.
More than 150 shots were administered and many were first doses, the premier said.
In Thompson, school public health nurses visited 33 homes in a low-income neighbourhood and administered first doses to 33 vaccine-hesitant youth and 19 adults.
"This is exactly what we hoped would happen as a result of the community outreach projects," the premier said.
While Pallister wouldn't say when or which public health restrictions will be eased, he said he knows right now that he won't get any positive news coverage.
"I haven't read a report for a long time about anybody saying 'great job Brian — that was a nice decision you made.' Pretty much everybody disagrees with me on these things," he said.
"Everybody doesn't like the pandemic — that we can agree on. Therefore, we're in a mood where we don't like the decisions made around the pandemic," Pallister said
The media is partly to blame, he suggested.
"Every time we make a recommendation on a change in restrictions, I find that the media covers two camps," one that wants restrictions eased more slowly and one that wants them lifted more quickly, the premier said.
As Manitoba braced for the impact of the more contagious Delta variant, some doctors have called on the province to raise the threshold for reopening, by waiting until 80 per cent of eligible people are fully vaccinated, and for two incubation periods to have passed.
"We want to caution against reopening too quickly which has been a real habit of the premier's," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Wednesday. "We should be listening to doctors and public health to make sure we're not rushing into this, because we've seen how that played out in Manitoba before," he told reporters in a scrum.
Pallister said Wednesday his government will make decisions that it feels "strike the right balance" in Manitobans "getting our lives back at a reasonable pace and not risking COVID coming back."
So far, "balance" has been missing from a Progressive Conservative government, that enabled Manitoba's health-care system to become overrun during the pandemic, said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
"If Mr. Pallister wants to reflect on himself, he should realize that he's done a terrible job through the second and third waves of the pandemic and it's irrefutable," Kinew said. "Manitoba had worse outcomes than almost anywhere else in North America during those periods," he said.
"He shouldn't wallow in the misery of that knowledge. He should focus on the task at hand," said Kinew. "If we want Manitoba to have a sustainable recovery, we need to not only invest in health care and vaccines. We also need to invest in fighting poverty, ensuring economic opportunity for everyone and improving housing along with other social services and education."
Kinew, who is Anishinaabe, bristled at the premier's earlier comments in which he credited settlers for building Manitoba, without acknowledging the contributions of Indigenous people or the harms of colonialism.
"It's pretty clear that Mr. Pallister doesn't understand the impact that some folks starting further back from the starting line in the race of life has on their health. But the experts do, and I think most reasonable Manitobans do understand that and would support us making investments to ensure that everyone has a good shot at health, but also an opportunity in life."
— With files from Dylan Robertson
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.