Manitoba health officials aren’t yet ready to push for mandatory self-isolation for travellers coming from western provinces, even as pandemic case counts soar in some of those regions.
On Wednesday, 11 flights from western provinces landed at Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport, including six from Calgary and one from Edmonton. Alberta had the highest number of new COVID-19 cases per capita in Canada over the past week.
In the meantime, Manitoba will be monitoring case counts over the next week or two to decide whether to enact a self-isolation order for western travellers, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 update.
"We’re always looking at the epidemiology, we sort of talked about Manitoba’s cases that are travel-related, that number is really, really low," he said.
"There’s risk all around. We aren’t promoting traveling — we are telling people to stay at home — but that is something we do look at on a regular basis."
The arrivals terminal at the Winnipeg airport was briefly busy Wednesday afternoon, as two flights from Calgary landed within 15 minutes of each other.
Some passengers were arriving for work, including Stéphane Desjardins, a mechanic in the mining industry originally from Edmonton who was heading to a remote mining camp. Desjardins said he works isolated from others at the campsite, adding, any time he returns home, he observes self-isolation.
"The nature of the camp itself allows for (self isolation) — we’re not in contact with others, we have our own placement, we work within our own confines," he said.
For others, work shutdowns are providing an opportunity.
Calgary barber Patrick Fernandez said he hasn’t been able to spend the holidays with his Winnipeg family in years.
"It’s impossible to take time off during Christmas for a barber, but we actually got let off (work)... so we have a four-week break, and this is the only time I could see them during Christmas," he said.
Fernandez lives alone in Calgary, and said he’s willing to spend weeks self-isolating in both Winnipeg and Calgary to be able to see family.
"I’m pretty scared, but honestly, you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do," he said. "You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to survive and have your Christmas properly."
Among the travellers was Hope Cotter, who was stopping in Winnipeg before heading to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, for work as a flight nurse.
“I’m pretty scared, but honestly, you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to survive and have your Christmas properly.” ‐ Patrick Fernandez, visiting from Calgary
Her career keeps her on the move: she’ll spend two weeks in Nunavut, will return home to Alberta to self-isolate, and then travel to another remote community (where Cotter said she will maintain non-work isolation).
"It does get a little tiring, but it’s awesome — I’m helping make a difference up North, and getting people the help that they need when they can’t get it in the community that they’re in," she said.
It’s "a little disheartening" to get on commercial flights where others are travelling for pleasure, Cotter said, but she tries to give people the benefit of the doubt that they maintain social distancing and hygiene standards when they do get to their location.
"You also kind of have to live your life, too, a little bit, as long as you’re playing it safe and wearing your mask," she said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.