Manitoba moves into first step of COVID-19 reopening plan ahead of schedule

WINNIPEG — Manitobans will be able to return to restaurants, go to church and meet with larger groups as the province brings in the first step of its COVID-19 reopening plan ahead of schedule.

"This week Manitobans met and surpassed vaccination goals," Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday.

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"Thank you, Manitobans, for doing that."

More than 71 per cent of eligible residents have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and about 27 per cent have had a second shot. Pallister said that means some restrictions will be loosened Saturday — a week earlier than planned.

Restaurants and bars will be limited to 25 per cent capacity indoors and 50 per cent on patios.

Hair salons, gyms and indoor sports can resume operating, but with capacity restrictions. Hair and nail salons, as well as barber shops, will be available by appointment only.

Outdoor gatherings on private property will be capped at 10 people and groups in public areas will be limited to 25.

The number of worshippers at faith services will also be capped.

"Manitobans can now begin to enjoy more freedoms and fewer public health restrictions," Pallister said.

Businesses such as casinos and movie theatres will remain closed. They are expected to open at later stages of the plan this summer.

The provincial government's three-step approach calls for public health orders to be loosened if first- and second-dose vaccination rates are met by certain summer holidays.

Manitoba's vaccine eligibility expanded to allow anyone who received a first dose on or before May 31 to schedule a second. It will further expand Thursday to those who received a first dose on or before June 6.

The number of COVID-19 infections has been steadily falling in recent days following a delayed third wave that fuelled surging case numbers and put pressure on the health-care system. The province brought in significant restrictions last month, just as many other parts of the country were starting to loosen their rules.

There were 122 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths reported Wednesday in Manitoba. The five-day test positivity rate dropped to 7.1 per cent provincially and 6.6 per cent in Winnipeg.

Pallister said his Progressive Conservative government's reopening plan is moving slower than in other areas. Manitoba has been in a race between vaccines and variants in recent months, he said, but with more people getting a dose, vaccines are starting to win.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said any reopening plan should have more details on health care.

"If we are serious about a reopening in Manitoba, our reopening plan has to include a plan for strengthening our health-care system," Kinew said.

There were 222 Manitobans in hospitals due to COVID-19, including 13 people in intensive-care units.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, said people must remain cautious because COVID-19 is still spreading in the community.

"This pandemic is certainly not over," he said.

The next step of Manitoba's plan, if vaccination rates are met, is to begin Aug. 2.

Pallister dangled the possibility that those who are fully vaccinated would be free of certain restrictions as the plan moves forward.

In the first step of reopening, only fully vaccinated people can dine indoors with people beyond their own household and travel outside the province without isolating upon return.

"We've offered a variety of motivations to get people vaccinated."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021.

© Virden Empire-Advance

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