Manitoba moves to drop vaccine requirements, all COVID-19 restrictions by mid-March

Click to play video: 'Manitoba accelerating reopening plan'
Manitoba accelerating reopening plan
The province will be eliminating the use of COVID-19 vaccine cards and all other public health restrictions in Manitoba next month. Here is a timeline for when the public health orders will be lifted – Feb 11, 2022

The province will be eliminating the use of COVID-19 vaccine cards and all other public health restrictions in Manitoba next month.

Manitoba’s premier and chief provincial public health officer announced the updates to the province’s public health order Friday, a week earlier than anticipated.

As of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15, all of Manitoba will move to yellow or caution on the pandemic response system, and the requirement of vaccine cards will be eliminated as of Tuesday, March 1.

As of March 15, mask requirements and all other COVID-19 restrictions will be removed.

“Manitobans have put their lives on hold and it’s time we give them their lives back,” Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said during a press conference Friday.

“Today we offer hope to those who have been waiting for a long time to see that light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said this means on Tuesday capacity limits will be lifted for venues including restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, indoor and outdoor sporting events and casinos, as well as for gatherings at private residences.

Capacity limits will also be dropped for outdoor public gatherings, but will be limited to 50 people indoors if proof of vaccination is not required. Vaccination and testing requirements at indoor sports for youth ages 12 to 17 will also be dropped on Feb. 15.

“From our very first public health order we had signed, these were always intended to be temporary,” Roussin said.

“We knew that this pandemic would come to an end, we knew that the public health restrictions would come to an end and we are now on that path moving forward.”

Click to play video: 'Manitoba moves to drop vaccine requirements, all COVID-19 restrictions by mid-March'
Manitoba moves to drop vaccine requirements, all COVID-19 restrictions by mid-March

Next week, the province will also change its requirements for close contacts. As of Tuesday, a close contact of a COVID-19 case will no longer have to self-isolate. Self-isolation requirements for anyone entering the province will also be dropped, but people travelling from international destinations will still need to meet federal requirements.

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Schools in the province will also move into the yellow or caution level on the province’s pandemic response system on February 15, which will require cohorts for students to Kindergarten to Grade 6.

Masks will still be required for students and staff, with the exception of during physical education classes. Schools will still send out notification letters if there is increased transmission or recommended remote learning for a class, cohort, or school.

The province will also no longer provide numbers on school cases.

Although protesters remain outside the legislative building, as well as near the Canada-U.S. border at Emerson, calling for an end to mandates and restrictions, the province has said it won’t let a protest influence how public health orders are determined.

The premier stands by that.

“Dr. Roussin said weeks ago that we were looking at probably the spring where we would be removing all of the restrictions, and that was before protesters were out in front of the legislature,” Stefanson said.

“So we have been having these discussions for some time, we’ve been following the data. The data is now telling us that the ICUs are on decline, the ICU capacity for COVID patients is on decline, the hospitalization capacity is on decline, so now it’s time to safely move forward with the reduction of these restrictions.”

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University of Manitoba microbiologist Jason Kindrachuk told 680 CJOB there are still a number of unanswered questions in the wake of Stefanson’s announcement.

“What are going to be the benchmarks moving forward, whereby we would see reintroduction of restrictions? That’s, to me, the big question,” he said.

“I think just saying we’re going to follow the data is somewhat disingenuous, because what is that data? If you want to have transparency and you want to have trust from the public — and that includes medical professionals and health professionals — be transparent about what those benchmarks are and what data you are going to assess.

“I think that’s really critical at this point in time because there are going to be questions moving forward.”

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Kindrachuk said there will be many Manitobans who won’t necessarily welcome the news — including those with children too young to vaccinate, or with people with family members in high-risk categories living in their homes.

“We’ve got to move forward, but we can’t move two steps back.”

In a statement Friday, Doctors Manitoba urged Manitobans to continue to exercise caution to help protect local hospitals.

“Doctors strongly recommend for all Manitobans to continue following public health COVID-19 guidance even if it is no longer reflected in a government restriction,” the statement said.

“We also strongly recommend all eligible Manitobans to get vaccinated including a booster shot. Only about 40 per cent of all Manitobans have received their third dose, which is much lower than countries like Denmark and the UK that are lifting restrictions.

“We have been through so much together over the past two years, and doctors remain here for you to listen and to help. We want the very best for our patients in terms of their physical and mental health… we will get through this pandemic, and we will get there faster by being cautious and by supporting and protecting each other.”

Dr. Renate Singh, with Shared Health, told 680 CJOB that Manitoba is definitely at the point where beginning to look at removing mandates makes sense, but cautioned that a “ripping off the band-aid” approach doesn’t make sense for the province’s health system.

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“Are the restrictions that we have presently in place going to be necessary a month from now? Probably not… but COVID restrictions are not a one size fits all kind of phenomenon,” Singh said.

“You have to tailor your COVID restrictions according to — number one, the general markers of health in your populations, and number two,  what your healthcare capacity is — what your capacity to look after sick people is.

“Realistically, the healthcare system has not recovered from this.”

Singh said Winnipeg hospitals are still struggling with a lack of capacity, as well as depleted and burned-out staff — which is not something that will necessarily improve in a month’s time.

“People are still getting sick and need to take time off — there’s still a very transmissible virus that’s circulating around.

“People have gotten burnt out and either left the profession, retired or have taken other jobs…. the reality is that we have a very tired depleted workforce that remains here. How do we rebuild? How do we bring new people into the profession, how to bring some of the disenfranchised back?”

Click to play video: 'Reaction to Manitoba’s plan to scrap restrictions'
Reaction to Manitoba’s plan to scrap restrictions

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