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Winkler mayor says punitive approach to vaccine opponents isn’t working

Winkler's mayor says he just wants a healthy community. Jordan Pearn/Global News

The mayor of Winkler, Man., says he’d like to see a different approach to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations in his community.

Manitoba saw more than 100 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday — the first triple-digit result in weeks — and the majority were in the Southern Health region, where Winkler is located, and where vaccination rates are lower than in other parts of the province.

Read more: COVID-19 controlled in Manitoba for now, but cases could skyrocket without intervention: Atwal

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Mayor Martin Harder told 680 CJOB a punitive approach to the non-vaccinated isn’t working in his city, and he’d like to see more positive messaging.

“I think I would use a lot more testimonials of people that are vaccinated — maybe acknowledge the fact that they are still subject to receiving COVID… but that the severity is significantly lower,” he said.

“I think we need to have positive messaging, something we can actually sell, rather than just, ‘we’re going to punish you for this.'”

Winkler mayor Martin Harder. Global News / File

Harder said he’s been the target of significant personal backlash due to provincial health restrictions — something out of his control — and that more severity, such as a regional lockdown if numbers don’t improve in the south, will likely only make things worse.

“A regional lockdown would blow up. I know that from the people around here, I know that from the people around Manitoba.”

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Read more: Winnipeg police arrest Ontario anti-masker at local rally

“For the people who are not prepared to take the vaccination and who are feeling by now they’re being targeted … it would not be good … the push system isn’t working.”

Harder said he’s seen what the dangerous Delta variant looks like first-hand — his daughter, who lives in the U.S., had it — and he just wants to keep his community safe.

Click to play video: 'Answering your COVID-19 questions, August 26' Answering your COVID-19 questions, August 26
Answering your COVID-19 questions, August 26 – Aug 26, 2021

“I’m looking for a healthy community and I want that, but how to get the message across — and how to get (provincial enforcement) to back-off from coming in riding on a high horse, holding the whip.

“People are also saying that the decision for the treatment belongs to the person who faces the dilemma,” he said.

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“I can’t change their minds. Everybody wants to have the same thing in the end, but at the same time, I don’t know anymore what to say.”

Read more: ‘We’ve done this before’: Manitoba virologist says fourth wave will be different

At last word Wednesday, 81.5 per cent of eligible Manitobans had received at least one shot of vaccine.

But a provincial website tracking vaccinations shows vaccine uptake in Winkler to be much lower, at just 38.5 per cent as of Wednesday.

Numbers were even worse in the Rural Municipality of Stanley, which surrounds Winkler, where vaccine uptake currently sits at 22 per cent, according to the site.

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