Manitobans looking to catch a movie at a theatre, grab a drink on a patio, or take in a sporting event or concert will need to show proof of full immunization against COVID-19 under the province’s latest public health orders.
The new orders go into effect Sept. 3 and will see a number of businesses, services, and events put out of reach for those who haven’t gotten two shots of vaccine.
“Ensuring that people are fully immunized before attending higher-risk events, activities and services will help reduce community spread of the virus,” said Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin in a release Friday.
“Already, we are seeing more of the newly identified cases are in people who have not yet been immunized, and we need to take these steps to protect them, others in their communities and the health-care system from the effects of the delta variant.”
On Tuesday Roussin announced changes to current health orders to both bring back a mask mandate in indoor public spaces — including schools — and force all front-line provincial employees who work with vulnerable populations to be fully vaccinated or face regular testing.
On Friday he said the mask mandate will go into effect starting Saturday morning.
Roussin said the new requirements for people to be fully immunized to participate in certain events and activities will be in effect in all of Manitoba’s health regions and will include:
- indoor and outdoor ticketed sporting events and concerts;
- indoor theatre/dance/symphony events;
- restaurants (indoor and patio dining);
- nightclubs and all other licensed premises;
- casinos, bingo halls and VLT lounges;
- movie theatres;
- fitness centres, gyms and indoor sporting and recreational facilities (excluding youth recreational sport); and
- organized indoor group recreational classes and activities, and indoor recreational businesses.
Children under 11, who aren’t yet able to be vaccinated, will be allowed to attend events and activities with a fully-immunized adult, Roussin said.
Workers affected by the new requirement to be vaccinated will include doctors, nurses, teachers, early childhood educators and prison guards. Government employees, including members of the legislature, will also be required to have their shots.
They will have to be fully immunized by Oct. 31 or undergo regular COVID-19 tests, up to three times a week for full-time employees. Proof of a negative test result will be required before the employees are allowed to resume working.
The changes come as health officials predict a fourth pandemic wave in the province is inevitable.
There were 31 new COVID-19 cases reported in Manitoba Friday and the five-day test positivity rate is 2.8 per cent.
Health officials said 26 of the new infections were in unvaccinated people, including 13 of the 14 cases reported Friday in the Southern Health region, where vaccination rates are considerably lower than the rest of the province.
Manitoba brought in a vaccine passport, or proof of immunization card, in early June. But, as restrictions were loosened, it was no longer required for many activities or to enter most businesses.
Earlier this week, Quebec and British Columbia announced they will issue a similar passport for people who want to take part in events or go to restaurants. Those provinces are facing increasing infections.
B.C.’s government said there has already been a significant increase in vaccine registrations and bookings for first doses since its announcement.
Roussin said he hopes to see a similar reaction in Manitoba.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said given the passports were distributed months ago, the renewed measure has come in late.
The Progressive Conservative government’s decision was supported by some businesses and restaurants that have been significantly affected by public health orders throughout the pandemic.
Loren Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said immediate and strong measures had to be taken or there would probably be another round of restrictions or closures.
“Such a scenario would be absolutely devastating to business and our community,” Remillard said in a news release.
Many still unvaccinated
New modelling released earlier this week shows COVID-19 could overwhelm the acute-care system within two months after the fourth wave arrives in Manitoba.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, said without higher levels of immunizations and more restrictions, intensive care units could be overwhelmed again.
It could be made worse if cases surge during the annual flu season, he added.
The Delta variant is already causing a significant increase in cases throughout western Canada in provinces that loosened restrictions earlier than Manitoba, where changes to health orders Aug. 5 included the removal of the mask mandate now set to return.
On Wednesday Manitoba reported 105 new COVID-19 cases, the highest one-day jump in infections since late June.
As of Friday morning, 76.2 per cent of Manitobans aged 12 and up have received two shots of vaccine and 81.7 per cent have received at least one dose.
But looking at the province’s entire population, health data released Friday shows 406,926 Manitobans have yet to receive even one shot of the vaccine, including 177,902 who are currently eligible.
There are 229,024 Manitoba children 11 and younger who are not eligible for a vaccine, the province said.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon said proof of vaccination is an important step to keep children safe as they head back to school next month.
“We want to ensure they are protected and they are safe,” Gordon said.
–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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