Manitoba’s premier announced restaurants and gyms will be allowed to open under loosened COVID-19 public health orders the same day health officials said the first case of the more-contagious United Kingdom variant of the virus has been found in the province.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday the changes to public health orders will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning.
“Today is another big day for Manitobans, especially for our local business owners who are eager to safely reopen their doors, and provide the goods and services that Manitobans have missed the past few months,” said Pallister in a release.
“With fewer restrictions, we must remain cautious, in fact, even more cautious. In the absence of COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, following the fundamentals is how we continue to protect each other and save lives.”
The updated public health orders will be in place for three weeks and include:
- allowing restaurants and licensed premises to reopen at 25 per cent capacity with patron groups limited to members of the same household only;
- allowing outdoor rinks to reopen for casual sports as well as organized practices and games, with multi-team tournaments not permitted;
- allowing gyms, fitness centres and yoga studios to reopen at 25 per cent capacity;
- allowing indoor sporting facilities such as rinks, gymnastic clubs and martial arts studios to reopen at 25 per cent capacity for individual instruction only;
- allowing places of worship to hold regular religious services if a service does not exceed 10 per cent of usual capacity or 50 people, whichever is lower;
- allowing self-help groups for persons dealing with addictions or other behaviours to hold meetings at 25 per cent capacity of the premise where meetings take place;
- allowing museums, art galleries and libraries to operate at 25 per cent capacity;
- allowing personal service businesses, such as those providing pedicures, electrolysis, cosmetic application, tanning, tattooing or massage services to reopen at 25 per cent capacity;
- allowing photographers and videographers to offer services to individual clients or those residing in the same household in addition to providing services at weddings, with the exception of visiting client homes; and
- allowing the film industry to operate fully with physical distancing and other safety measures in place.
Many in the business community has waited for the news for a long time.
“I think, obviously, they’d like to be operating at a little bit more than 25 per cent capacity … but for the time being, they will take the opening and hope that we can continue to head in the same trajectory,” said Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.
The chamber is hoping the government will extend grants, currently available to businesses forced to close, to establishments that can reopen under capacity limits.
“Reopening at a quarter of what you could in the past is not going to pay all the bills,” Davidson said.
The Opposition said the Progressive Conservative government should boost intensive care units in the event the reopenings lead to a surge in new COVID-19 cases. The units started running well above normal capacity in the fall when daily case counts were 300 or more.
“I think it’s really, really important for the government to start training those nurses, training those staff people right now,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
Under the current rules — which went into effect in all areas except the northern health region Jan. 23 — non-essential retail stores are allowed to open at 25 per cent capacity and a list of items previously considered non-essential was eliminated.
Barber shops, hair salons, reflexologists and some other personal services have also been able to open.
A ban on social visits in homes was also eased under the last changes to allow two designated people (family or friends) to visit a household. Outdoor visits of up to five people plus members of a household on an outdoor private property has also been allowed.
The new public health orders will bring the entire province — including the north — under the same restrictions.
The province said the current rules around social visits and limits on retail stores, hair salons and barbers would remain the same.
The easing of restrictions come as case numbers continue to decline in Manitoba.
On Monday health officials announced four additional deaths and 53 new cases, the lowest list of new daily infections Manitoba has seen since mid-October. Health officials reported 75 additional COVID-19 cases Tuesday and three deaths.
There was a rapid increase in infections and deaths in Manitoba in the fall. The province brought in significant restrictions at the time to reduce spread of the novel coronavirus in communities and to ease pressures on health care.
The UK variant
At the same Tuesday morning press conference where Pallister announced the new public health orders, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the province has recorded its first case of the United Kingdom variant of COVID-19.
He says the case was linked directly to travel and there is no evidence of it spreading.
“We certainly can’t let our guard down,” Roussin said.
The province says the variant is linked to two flights,
- Lufthansa LH470 from Frankfurt to Toronto, Jan. 19, Rows 39-45
- Air Canada AC271 from Toronto to Winnipeg, Jan. 19, Rows 13-19
Based on the evidence so far, researchers believe the B.1.1.7 lineage that was first discovered in the United Kingdom is up to 70 per cent more contagious than other variants. It is not yet clear, however, if it causes more severe illness or is more lethal.
— With files from Saba Aziz and 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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