Manitoba eyes reopening some businesses amid steady coronavirus numbers

Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba health officials looking at ways to ease COVID-19 restrictions
On Wednesday, Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said that “in the coming weeks,” the province will be looking at ways to ease the COVID-19 restrictions that have been put in place during the pandemic, which would include safely reopening some non-essential businesses. He stated that the current direction for residents is still to adhere to physical distancing strategies, and that easing restrictions would not be a “return to normal” but a “new normal for the foreseeable future.”

The Manitoba government is putting the finishing touches on a plan to loosen restrictions connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is warning that large public gatherings will not be permitted any time soon.

“What I’m going to be telling you next week is … a game plan that we can follow — provided that we don’t place additional unnecessary risks on our population — to get our economy and our social life back on track,” Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday.

Chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the plan will include a gradual lifting of restrictions.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 2 more cases brings Manitoba’s total to 257; all symptomatic essential workers can be tested

Some non-essential businesses will be allowed to reopen and a 10-person limit on public gatherings might be raised in the near future, he said.

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Pallister said church services and dine-in restaurants might be able to restart at some point.

Manitoba premier says re-opening plans nearing completion; cautions things will be different
Manitoba premier says re-opening plans nearing completion; cautions things will be different

But it is clear that large crowds, including public attendance at major sporting events, are a long way off.

“Large group gatherings are not a thing in our foreseeable future, and even when we do start moving the economy, things like that physical distancing are going to be in place for quite some time,” Roussin said.

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There have been a relatively low number of cases in Manitoba compared with other provinces.

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Roussin announced two new cases for a total of 257 since the pandemic began. With more people recovering than testing positive, the number of active cases fell to 97.

READ MORE: 3 Manitobans charged for violating COVID-19 orders at house party in The Pas: RCMP

RCMP said that while many have followed public health orders, its members issued $486 tickets to three people after a recent house party in The Pas.

The Mounties said the three, who became belligerent when officers went to the home and found a large group there, were fined for disobeying the 10-person limit on gatherings.

Help for businesses announced

Also on Wednesday, the Progressive Conservative government announced financial aid to small- and medium-sized businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interest-free loans of $6,000 are to be available to businesses that have had to scale back operations. The loans are to be forgiven at the end of the year for businesses that have not qualified for federal pandemic-relief programs.

READ MORE: Don’t jump the gun on loosening COVID-19 restrictions: Manitoba epidemiologist

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Pallister has faced criticism from some business leaders for not offering direct financial assistance until now, and has been trying to keep the province’s deficit from ballooning by seeking job concessions from public-sector workers.

He has asked civil servants and other workers who are not on the front lines of health care to accept reduced work weeks, and has warned temporary layoffs are the alternative.

The government issued a memo to public-sector workers on Wednesday that listed measures being taken to control costs.

“Potential legislation has also been identified as a last resort,” the memo said.

READ MORE: Rushing to ease coronavirus restrictions could cause resurgence, WHO warns

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The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union said the document appears to threaten to undo collective bargaining rights.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the Manitobans that I’ve talked to are saying (Pallister) is going to do whatever he wants to do, no matter what,” union president Michelle Gawronsky said.

Coronavirus outbreak: 25 Manitoba health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, four in past week
Coronavirus outbreak: 25 Manitoba health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, four in past week

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.