Manitoba goes mask-free, many businesses, people remain cautious

Click to play video: 'Manitoba mask mandate lifted' Manitoba mask mandate lifted
Manitoba has now lifted all remaining public health orders across the province, including its indoor mask mandate. But the move isn't being welcomed by all. Global's Brittany Greenslade has more – Mar 15, 2022

The mask mandate has been lifted in Manitoba, and local businesses and other organizations are now learning to navigate the province’s new reality — with some choosing to keep certain COVID-19 restrictions in place while others are leaving it solely in the hands of customers and clients.

Manitoba health minister Audrey Gordon said the lifting of restrictions was made possible by people in the province committing to following public health orders over the past two years.

Read more: Monday marks last day for Manitoba mask mandate

“Thanks to the commitment, compassion and hard work of all Manitobans, particularly our health-care heroes, we are finally in a position to lift restrictions,” she said.

“This path forward will be different for all of us, whether we choose to wear masks or not, or how and when we connect with family and friends. Let’s be patient, thoughtful and kind to each other as we navigate this new normal together.”

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The province said Monday that despite the lifting of restrictions, public health will continue to monitor positive cases and severe outcomes related to COVID-19.

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For some businesses, it’s a welcome change after all this time.

Rosario Cesario, massage therapist and owner of Pure Escape spa, told 680 CJOB his business will go maskless unless staff are asked specifically by a client to mask up.

“I wrote on our social media pages, and unlike August where we extended the mask mandate and got negative reviews, people are liking our page, sharing our page — do you know how hard it is to get a Facebook page shared?

Read more: COVID-19 related ICU patient numbers drop to lowest in months

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“There’s excitement — there’s actually excitement today to go out and be out without a mask. With caution, obviously, but there’s some excitement there.”

Cesario said the numbers have been low enough that he’s comfortable to try going maskless for now.

“We also want to make sure everyone’s covered — if they ask us to wear it, we’ll put our masks on for their treatment, but we just want them to have a choice, and the staff as well.

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“At what point do we start to try this? Where do we draw the line and say, ‘we need to try this’? I think it’s time.”

Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) said Tuesday that it encourages customers to continue wearing medical-grade masks when visiting service or claim centres — and especially in situations like driver’s road tests, where social distancing isn’t possible.

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Read more: Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates fall, healthcare workers return

While provincial health orders have lifted mandatory mask usage as of March 15, Manitoba Public Insurance says it remains mask-friendly.

“While no longer a health order, we encourage customers to assess their health and personal risk and consider wearing a mask within an MPI facility,” said the Crown corporation’s chief customer officer, Satvir Jatana.

For customers at MPI locations, however, some restrictions will still be in place, including social distancing requirements, answering pre-screening questions, and the use of plexiglass barriers.

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Restaurants have been heavily affected by public health orders, although some have continued to enforce restrictions even after they were no longer mandatory.

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Downtown eatery the Merchant Kitchen had been checking vaccine passports beyond the dropping of that mandate on March 1, but is now shifting gears.

Read more: 2 years into COVID-19 pandemic, world cautiously looks to move forward

“We were kind of watching and talking with people to see if, in fact, there was a negative result for not asking for the vaccine passport,” said the restaurant’s Bobby Mottola.

“As it turns out, there’s hasn’t been an increase, things seem to be going in the direction we had all hoped they were, so… we are going to stop asking for the passport.”

Mottola said staff will continue to wear masks for an undetermined amount of time.

‘If the need be, we have a plan’

On Tuesday Manitoba’s health minister said the province is prepared to respond if infections and hospitalizations begin to rise again with the lifting of all remaining COVID-19 restrictions.

“If the need be, we have a plan,” Gordon said.

Read more: COVID-19: Slight drop in hospitalizations, another death reported in Manitoba

“If we have (a) surge, we have a plan … and if the numbers continue to take a downward trend, we will continue on the path we have been.”

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The Progressive Conservative government began loosening public health orders last month as key indicators, including hospitalizations, began to drop.

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Gordon pointed to a recovery plan which she said ensures hospital capacity if cases surge.

The plan includes a baseline of 110 adult intensive-care beds, up from the pre-pandemic baseline of 92. There is also capacity to expand that number if needed.

The province is also resuming more elective and non-urgent surgeries.

As of Tuesday, 18 people were in ICU with the virus, down two from Monday. In all, health officials reported 410 patients in hospital as a result of COVID-19 Tuesday.

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Health officials also reported another death linked to the virus Tuesday, bringing the province’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,717.

The Opposition New Democrats have criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic, including its approach to reopening.

Read more: COVID-19 related ICU patient numbers drop to lowest in months

Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP’s health-care critic, said even though restrictions are being lifted, the health-care system is not prepared if there’s a surge.

“The health-care system still lacks the capacity to ensure people can get the health care they need when they need it,” she said.

–With files from The Canadian Press

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