Just hours after Manitoba announced a staggering new 480 cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths, protesters are getting personal with Premier Brian Pallister.
Activists erected tombstones across from the Premier’s Winnipeg home early Saturday morning in what they say is a display recognizing the 65 people who have lost their lives because of the virus in the province.
“We’re all concerned frightened, and frustrated about this growing wave,” Emily Gerbrandt, a Winnipeg student, explains.
“Pallister’s government has remained committed to an austerity agenda and we’re all paying the price.”
The group cites the Pallister government’s cuts to health care and a focus on restarting the economy during the pandemic as the reasons behind the death toll.
“Pallister’s government has cut 18 intensive care unit beds across Winnipeg,” organizer Rebecca Hume says, echoing concerns voiced by Manitoba opposition leader Wab Kinew before COVID-19 came to the province. “They should at least witness the death toll their current plan has cost the rest of us.”
As of Wednesday, the province says there are 71 ICU beds in Winnipeg.
Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa told 680 CJOB that’s a number that’s going up daily as the province “flexes up” capacity to deal with a surge in hospitalizations and severe outcomes she says is only seven to ten days away.
“We need to free up staffing, and free up beds,” Siragusa said. “We are gradually slowing down surgeries starting Monday.
“We will be developing a plan over the weekend where we can redeploy staff.”
On Friday night, Siragusa said five ICU beds in Winnipeg were open.
Much to the chagrin of some Manitobans online, the Premier nor provincial health minister Cameron Friesen were present at Friday’s announcement of sweeping restrictions in the Winnipeg metropolitan region.
Those restrictions include the closure of restaurants and bars for dine-in service, reduced capacity at retail stores and fitness centres, and the cancellation of all sports and recreation programming.
Gerbrandt says that’s why her group took the issue right to Pallister’s doorstep.
“If Brian Pallister would have shown up for the devastating news we heard on Friday, instead of sending other public health members, perhaps today would have looked different.”
“He has a responsibility as our leader to steady the storm as Mantiobans go through tough times — and this is perhaps the most difficult news Manitobans will hear in their lifetime.”
With health-care systems at or near capacity across the province, Gerbrandt says that’s deservedly top of mind right now — but she also brings attention to what she calls a lack of care from the province when it comes to education.
“The provincial government has received over $85 million in funding for a safe return to school, yet we’re seeing fundraisers, and students being sent home with notes to help equip classrooms with sanitation equipment and PPE.”
The province says it began distributing that money in late September — including a $52 million investment of its own.
“Twelve million is estimated for masks and personal protective equipment, $32 million for school divisions and independent schools to access up to a per-pupil maximum, and $8 million to address serious and urgent health and safety measures over and above the school division allocation,” Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said following that announcement.
Schools were unaffected by the restrictions announced on Friday, with the province leaving it up to individual school divisions if they want to pivot to remote learning solutions.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s Chief Public Health Officer, said schools haven’t been a big spreader of the virus thus far.
“We’re not seeing transmission in school. We’re seeing a lot of cases, but they’re not community-acquired,” he explained.
For Gerbrandt, it’s not a case of “too little, too late” — but the province’s actions thus far have done little to make her believe enough will be done moving forward.
“We’re seeing a complete lack of care and responsibility from our leaders in whether we live or die.”