The Manitoba government is considering a further loosening of COVID-19 restrictions that could see more people allowed to eat together at restaurants, expanded capacity at stores and churches, and the limited reopening of theatres, concert halls and casinos.
The proposed changes announced Thursday could also see the removal of a 14-day required self-isolation period for interprovincial and domestic travelers who travel for business and otherwise do not have symptoms.
“Thanks to Manitobans’ efforts we are once again in a position to consider loosening additional restrictions as we learn to live this virus,” said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister in a government release.
The government is launching public consultations on what future public health orders might look like — and when they should be enacted — although it says no time frame has been determined yet.
Manitoba’s current COVID-19 public health orders are set to expire March 25.
Pallister said his government is considering moving the province to the orange, or restricted, level of Manitoba’s pandemic response system. Manitoba has been under red level restrictions for months after daily case counts and hospitalization rates swelled in November.
Under the proposed changes theatres, concert halls, casinos, and gaming centres could open at 25 per cent capacity, organized team games would be allowed at indoor sports facilities, and members of a household would be allowed to dine indoors at a restaurant with designated visitors from other households.
Capacity at religious services would be expanded to 25 per cent, or 250 people, whichever is lower, and retail stores would be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity, or 500 people, whichever is lower.
Read more: 4 More COVID-19 deaths, 94 cases in Manitoba
Outdoor gathering limits at public places would increase to 25 people, and current limits on weddings, funerals and other gatherings would also increase to 25 people.
Mask rules would also lifted for youth while taking part in indoor sporting events, although they would need to be masked in other other areas of the facility.
The proposed changes do not include changes to limits on indoor or outdoor gathering sizes at homes.
The government is asking Manitobans to weigh in on the proposed changes through an online survey.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer said dropping hospitalization rates and ongoing vaccination efforts make the changes possible.
“While we expect to see cases increase as we continue to reopen the economy, we have to accept that COVID-19 is here to stay for many years,” he said.
“This means we all need to learn to live with this virus and find ways to assess our risk without having to implement long-term lockdowns.”
Manitoba’s COVID-19 numbers have dropped sharply from a spike last fall but have been creeping upward in recent days.
Health officials reported 96 new cases and no new deaths Wednesday. Three cases from unspecified dates were removed due to data correction, so the net increase was 93, leaving the province’s total number of cases at 32,996.
The province also revealed that nine recent cases were of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, bringing the total number of cases involving variants of concern to 64.
The rate of people testing positive — measured as an average over five days — has also crept up recently. It stood at 4.4 per cent across the province and 3.4 per cent in Winnipeg on Wednesday.
Since COVID-19 was first reported in Manitoba last March, 917 Manitobans with the virus have died.
–With files from 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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