The clock has struck midnight (well, 12:01 a.m.) for most of Manitoba’s remaining anti-COVID-19 public health orders.
As of shortly after midnight March 15, the province’s rule regarding mask wearing in public indoor places has been lifted in most locations. The move comes weeks after the province shut down its own requirements for either proof of vaccination or of a recent negative COVID-19 test to access some areas and signals a shutdown of Manitoba’s largest remaining and most visible COVID-19 restriction.
The province joins Saskatchewan, Alberta and several other jurisdictions around the world as places where most COVID-19-related health orders have been lifted.
“We will continue to provide public health recommendations and guidance on COVID-19, but now Manitobans are empowered to make their own decisions about what is right for themselves and their families,” said Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
“We know these restrictions have taken a toll on many people’s health and wellbeing, but we also know that this shift may cause different stress and anxiety for some. This is a process for everyone to take at their own pace and we need to remember to support each other as it happens.”
Not all areas within Manitoba are going mask-free, however. All people attending health-care facilities, including staff and visitors, will need to remain masked indoors. Aside from that, most other public indoor settings will no longer be subject to a provincial mask mandate, including schools and child-care facilities, which have been moved to a “green” level on the province’s pandemic response system. Business owners, supervisors and the like are also able to maintain their own policies on whether or not staff or customers should remain masked.
The province has also announced that most contact tracing of new cases will be eliminated and people who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer need to isolate for any length of time, regardless of symptoms or vaccination status.
“Individual case investigations related to COVID-19 will no longer occur and Manitoba will no longer generate key codes for the federal COVID Alert app, and public health will no longer require people who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate,” reads a March 14 announcement from the province.
The province continues to recommend isolation periods for people who test positive for COVID-19 in certain situations. The province also recommends that people who have possible COVID-19 symptoms should wear a mask when contacting other people while ill or within 10 days of onset of symptoms and avoid non-essential visits to people who may be at high risk.
Manitoba health data will continue to be collected on positive cases and severe outcomes.
The expiration of health orders also includes lifting all provincial restrictions on travel to northern Manitoba, which have quietly been in place for over a year. Those rules restricted travel into northern Manitoba from southern areas, but had loopholes to allow travel if the person or people heading north were fully vaccinated or heading into the region for essential purposes, which ranged from travelling north for work to travelling to facilitate family custody agreements to simply travelling north to camp, hunt or fish.
Few tickets have been issued in the past year as a result of the northern travel order - since March 2021, a total of 12 tickets had been issued for “unnecessary northern travel”, with only one ticket issued since late last May across all of northern Manitoba.
The change does not apply to northern communities with their own travel advisories or restrictions - only to provincial regulations.
Some aspects of the health order change have received criticism from the opposition Manitoba NDP caucus, which includes Flin Flon MLA Tom Lindsey. The NDP welcomed the easing of orders, but called for the ruling PC party to be held responsible for what they see as an overloaded, overloaded and underresourced provincial health care system.
“Manitobans are looking forward to a brighter future but to get there, we need a government that fixes health care and ensures families get the surgeries and tests they need. But instead of putting people first, Premier Stefanson told Manitobans they were on their own,” reads a statement from provincial health care critic Uzoma Asagwara.