Manitoba and Saskatchewan each saw big moves towards removing key health orders early this week. Saskatchewan ended the few orders that remained in effect, while Manitoba removed one of its own biggest COVID-19-related orders.
All remaining public health orders in Saskatchewan expired Monday shortly after midnight, including rules regarding indoor mask use, isolation requirements and all other COVID-19-related orders.
Starting this week, people in Saskatchewan will not have to wear masks or similar face coverings in indoor public spaces, though people are able to do so if they so choose.
Also as of this week, people who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer have to self-isolate for any length of time, regardless of their possible COVID-19 status.
Businesses may still choose to require proof of vaccination or mask use on premises.
It is the second time the province has removed COVID-19 health orders, having done the same last July. That lasted for just over three months, before Saskatchewan reinstated a mask mandate for all public indoor spaces last September.
The province removed rules regarding vaccination requirements Feb. 14.
Saskatchewan will also change restrictions on family visits in care homes and medical facilities. According to updated guidelines from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, capacity limits for visits to care homes or medical facilities have been lifted and while mask use will remain mandatory for common areas, masks can be taken off for visitors in people’s rooms. Those rules will not be quite the same for acute care facilities - for such areas, patients are allowed to have only two designated family or support visitors, with only one able to visit at a time.
Meanwhile, Manitoba made changes of its own this week, ending all mandatory requirements for proof of vaccination for certain indoor spaces as of Tuesday.
As of the most recent Manitoba health order, proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test was required to access gyms, casinos, museums, galleries, sports events, movie theatres and in-person dining at restaurants. Health orders from last month also allowed for increased attendance and relaxed rules in some settings, like church services, where all people inside had proof of vaccination or a recent negative test.
Manitoba vaccination cards and the accompanying verification app will continue to be available for people needing to use the cards in other jurisdictions or for travel, as well as for any businesses or services that choose to keep requesting proof of vaccination.
For business owners, getting rid of vaccination requirements has seen a mixed response, according to findings from the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce (MCC). In a report released Feb. 28, the MCC reported that just shy of one third of businesses surveyed will continue to require proof of vaccination for staff and/or customers. About 42 per cent of business owners surveyed say they will drop all requirements, but 23 per cent said they were unsure what they would do.
“For businesses, these changes may be a welcome relief, or they may be worrisome, significant and take time to implement. The pandemic has shaken consumer confidence and the total lifting of operating restrictions will not mean an immediate 'return to normal' for our business community,” reads the MCC report.
Manitoba’s mask mandate for indoor public spaces is set to expire March 15.
The vast majority of people in both provinces are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 - just under 1.1 million Manitobans and around 900,000 Saskatchewan residents have at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.