The Manitoba government says it is considering making “modest changes” to current COVID-19 public health orders, including allowing all retail stores to reopen and eliminating the current list of items not allowed to be sold in stores.
The province’s current set of public health orders, which includes tight restrictions on non-essential store openings and public gatherings, have been in place since mid-November and are set to expire Friday at midnight.
The provincial government released a plan Tuesday which, subject to public feedback, would ease some of the restrictions aimed at keeping COVID-19 in check.
“Manitobans deserve to be proud — it is because of their willingness and dedication to follow the public health orders to protect their loved ones and their community that we have been able to bend our COVID curve down, and keep it down,” said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister in a government release.
“While there is much reason for optimism with that progress, we must not let our guard down, which is why we are taking a cautious approach to safely restoring our services and activities in Manitoba.”
The proposed changes would lift a ban that currently requires non-essential stores to close. The businesses would be allowed to reopen with the same 25 per cent capacity limit that essential retailers now face.
Hair salons, barber shops, reflexologists and some other personal services would also reopen under the plan.
And a ban on most social visits in private homes, which currently has small exemptions for people who live alone, would be eased to allow two visitors at a time inside and five on outdoor private property.
Many other restrictions would remain in place. Tattoo parlours, dine-in restaurants, bars and recreational sports leagues would remain closed.
“Prolonged indoor contact is where this virus spreads,” said Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin.
“When you look at the loosening (of) restrictions we have right now, they’re not including places that really have the prolonged, enclosed contact.”
A final decision on the proposals is expected Thursday. Any changes would take effect Saturday and would not likely include the northern part of the province, where case numbers are still running high, Roussin added.
Manitoba imposed the restrictions in the fall when the province was leading all others in the per-capita rate of new infections. Since then, the daily count of new cases has dropped in southern and central regions, although the demand on intensive care beds remains above pre-pandemic capacity.
Health-care officials reported 111 new cases Tuesday and 11 deaths.
The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce said it was hoping to see more businesses, such as restaurants, given the go-ahead to reopen with capacity limits. The group said the ongoing uncertainty over when businesses might get closer to normal operations is causing anxiety.
“These are businesses that had to shut their doors, in many cases have zero revenue coming in, have had to lay off employees. It’s been an extremely challenging time,” said the group’s president, Chuck Davidson.
The Opposition New Democrats called on the Progressive Conservative government to offer more financial aid to businesses and to provide some sort of timeline on when more might reopen.
“Those businesses that won’t be allowed to reopen this round ? would all appreciate greater clarity as to when they may be part of the reopening plan,” said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
–With files from Steve Lambert at The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
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.
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. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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