Manitoba is reopening restaurants and bars and expanding gathering sizes under loosened restrictions slated to start this weekend.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, announced the new rules, which go into effect Saturday morning, at a Wednesday press conference.
“Manitobans have earned an earlier reopening,” said Pallister in a release.
“Together, we have beat back the third wave and have booked first and second dose vaccinations in record numbers. After nearly a year and half fighting COVID-19, it is time for Manitobans to regain their freedoms and enjoy a summer we all want, and have rightfully earned.”
Manitoba’s current COVID-19 public health orders cap public gatherings at five people, restrict restaurants to takeout and delivery services, and limit store capacity to 10 per cent. Most indoor social gatherings are banned and theatres, cinemas, casinos and concert venues remain closed.
But under a reopening plan announced earlier this month, health officials said they would look at gradually loosening restrictions if certain vaccination milestones are hit over the summer, provided daily case numbers and hospitalization rates have also fallen.
Officials said Monday the first milestone — 70 per cent of Manitobans aged 12 and up having their first dose and 25 per cent having their second — has been achieved earlier than the original July 1 target.
That means plans to loosen COVID-19 restrictions can happen earlier too, Pallister said Wednesday.
Under the updated public health orders restaurants and bars can open at 25 per cent capacity indoors, and 50 per cent capacity for outdoor dining. Those dining indoors must be from the same household, but those rules will be waived if all patrons at the table are fully vaccinated.
Outdoor dining at bars and restaurants will see tables limited to a maximum of eight patrons, all of whom can be from different households, regardless of immunization status.
Limits on outdoor gathering sizes on private property increase to 10 people and will allow for visitors to briefly access homes for “essential activities,” like using the washroom, Roussin said.
The cap on public outdoor gathering sizes will increase to 25 people, and retail businesses will have capacity limits increased to 25 per cent to a limit of 250 people. A restriction on the number of household members allowed to shop together will also be lifted.
Personal services businesses such as hair and nail salons, estheticians, and barbers will be allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity, on an appointment basis only.
Read more: Manitoba launches COVID-19 reopening plan
Indoor faith-based services and gatherings such as pow wows and sun dance ceremonies will be allowed to resume at 25 per cent capacity with a limit of 25 people as long as masks are worn at all times.
Outdoor weddings and funerals will have capacity limits raised to 25 people plus a photographer and officiants, while indoor weddings and funerals will remain capped at 10 people.
Indoor dance, music and theatre classes and other organized sports and recreation activities will be allowed at 25 per cent capacity, to a limit of five people, while those groups will be now allowed to hold outdoor activities for groups up to 25 people. No tournaments will be allowed under the new rules.
Both indoor and outdoor swimming and wading pools can open at 25 per cent capacity, and gyms and fitness centres can reopen for individual and group fitness classes at 25 per cent capacity as long as three metres distance can be maintained between participants,
Indoor mask use and physical distancing will still be required under the new rules, which are scheduled to expire Aug 2, the same day as the second milestone for the province’s reopening plans.
Roussin said people must remain cautious because COVID-19 is still spreading in the community.
“This pandemic is certainly not over.”
Under the province’s broader reopening plan, dubbed 4-3-2-One Great Summer Reopening Path, openings will increase to 50 per cent capacity, and gathering sizes limits will be again increased if the province hits 75 per cent first dose vaccination and 50 per cent second dose rates by the August long weekend.
Finally, if 80 per cent of the eligible population has received one shot and 75 per cent has received two shots by Labour Day, the province will open businesses, services and facilities fully, with some restrictions.
The province said an earlier reopening plan may be considered if goals are met earlier and case counts remain low. Pallister also dangled the possibility that those who are fully vaccinated would be free of certain restrictions as the plan moves forward.
A provincial release said more benefits for the fully vaccinated will be announced in July, including increased capacity for fully immunized people at weddings, funerals, faith-based and other gatherings based on “continued vaccination rate increases and improvements in the province’s overall COVID-19 situation.”
Manitoba had 1,789 active COVID-19 cases Wednesday and the provincial five-day test positivity rate is 7.1 per cent. As of Wednesday, 1,202,971 vaccine doses have been administered across the province, according to a provincial site tracking vaccinations.
That means 71.6 per cent of Manitobans over the age of 12 have received at least one shot, and 28.8 per cent have received two, according to the site.
New case numbers have been steadily dropping in recent days after a delayed third wave put significant pressure on the health-care system and prompted strict public health orders last month.
There were still 222 Manitobans hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning, including 13 who are in intensive care units in other provinces.
After reporting less than 100 new daily COVID-19 cases for three straight days, health officials said 123 new infections had been identified Wednesday. Three additional deaths were also reported Wednesday, all linked to the Alpha variant, first identified in the United Kingdom.
Since March 2020, Manitoba has reported 55,589 COVID-19 cases and 1,132 Manitobans with the virus have died.
–With files from The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
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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. 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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