COVID-19: No need to stockpile food despite earlier warning, Manitoba health minister says

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen fields questions about the province's response to COVID-19 during a press conference March 3, 2020. Global News

Manitoba’s health minister walked back statements made by his federal counterpart Tuesday and said there needs to be a coordinated message when it comes to COVID-19.

Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu warned last week that people should consider stockpiling food and medicine in case of an outbreak, prompting some stores in various parts of the country to see products like toilet paper and bottled water fly off the shelves.

“I spoke specifically to the federal health minister about some specific statements she made recently about stockpiling food,” Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said.

“And I just questioned the extent to which, at this point in time, such an instruction would be helpful. I believe she agreed we need to co-ordinate our statements.”

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Friesen says it’s never a bad idea to ensure you have medication at home — especially if it’s been prescribed — but stockpiling anything at this point is unnecessary.

Despite the conflicting messages from the two levels of government, Friesen says communication on the issue is ramping up, and he’s now receiving daily updates from the province’s chief public health officer.

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“We are also taking the time to brief others. Yesterday we communicated broadly with all the municipal leaders on a conference call across Manitoba,” Friesen said.

“I think having information is important and having good information is important. Obviously there’s a high need for us to get it right in terms of coordination and communication with Manitobans; we’re fully committed to that.”

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Without getting into specifics, the minister says there are “a myriad of contingency plans” in place, ranging from how testing is done to how staffing levels at health centres could be boosted, should the need arise.

The number of confirmed cases in Canada ticked up to 30 Tuesday, 20 of which are in Ontario, nine in B.C., and one in Quebec.

Friesen’s message to Manitobans didn’t change much Tuesday; besides urging people to remain vigilant and practice good hygiene, he says they should also pay attention to where their information is coming from.

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“I think what last week’s incident on that plane showed us is that we have to go back to authoritative places to take our information from,” Friesen says.

“People are jittery right now because they don’t know what this could mean.”

Friesen was apparently referencing an incident last week when paramedics in protective gear removed an ill woman from a plane in Winnipeg.

At the time, the Winnipeg Airports Authority referred all questions to health authorities, and while Manitoba Health, Seniors, and Active Living said in a statement it was aware of the situation, it couldn’t provide specific information “as it could result in the release of personal health information.”

Authorities later said the woman did not have COVID-19.

Friesen says people should rely on government reports, as well as news sources they trust for information and “don’t believe everything that they’ve seen on Twitter.”

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