Manitoba has announced plans to speed up its easing of public health orders, with most capacity limits going bye-bye next week, along with orders for close contacts to isolate. Larger changes involving masks and vaccine or negative test requirements are set to come next month.
Starting shortly after midnight Feb. 15, the provincial government plans to move Manitoba to "yellow" on the provincial pandemic response system, meaning a further easing of restrictions - a week earlier than expected and just one week after the last change in Manitoba health orders.
Gatherings in indoor public spaces with one or more unvaccinated people over age 12 will be limited to 50 people maximum. Aside from that, all other indoor and outdoor gatherings on public and private property, regardless of vaccine status, will no longer be subject to capacity limits.
Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the province's own health data - which was not presented at the announcement - shows enough positive indicators to justify the changes.
“Based on the information and data monitored by public health, we are seeing strong signals that the omicron wave has peaked and is now having a reduced impact here in Manitoba,” said Roussin.
“As a result, it’s prudent to continue to reduce our public health restrictions."
Premier Heather Stefanson said that the province's COVID-19 situation was now improving - and along with that, restrictions still in place can be lifted.
"Today we offer hope to those who have been waiting for a long time to see that light at the end of the tunnel," said the premier.
"The restrictions have placed many burdens on Manitobans and now that we see the pressure of our hospital systems starting to ease, it's our responsibility of government to ease those restrictions on Manitobans."
Mask use and proof of vaccine requirements will stay in place - but, according to the province, those changes will be gone in less than three weeks. The province has announced plans to remove proof of vaccine requirements March 1, with all remaining restrictions, including those relating to mask use in public indoor spaces, gone March 15.
Proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test is still required until then for in-person restaurant dining, gyms, casinos, bingo halls, museums, galleries, sports events, movie theatres and other settings. Proofs have been lifted for one group, though - youth athletes ages 12-17 taking part in indoor sports will now no longer have to show proof of vaccinations or a recent negative test.
No immediate changes will be coming for retail operations or personal services, with nothing new anticipated until mask mandates and vaccine or negative test requirements are lifted next month.
Other changes include alterations to the province's protocols for people close to others who test positive for COVID-19. Currently, close contacts to people who test positive have to self-isolate - starting Feb. 15, they are no longer required to, though public health recommends an isolation period. That includes both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Self-isolation requirements for people entering Manitoba from other provinces will also be lifted, but international travelers will still have to self-isolate when applicable.
The changes include no longer notifying people who are close contacts to COVID-19 cases within hospitals, care homes and shelters. Starting March 8, people in health care settings will not be told if they are close contacts.
"In some settings, such as personal care homes, shelters, and health-care facilities, public health officials have continued to work with facilities to notify close contacts. Effective March 8, this will no longer occur," reads the provincial announcement.
Schools will send out notification letters if COVID-19 case loads reach high levels or remote learning is required.
As of Feb. 11, at least 125,844 Manitobans have tested positive for COVID-19, with many during the omicron wave not officially recorded due to lack of testing availability. Of those recorded cases, 13,793 people province-wide are still considered active cases. A total of 656 Manitobans are hospitalized due to COVID-19 and the province is continuing to transfer non-COVID-19 patients throughout Manitoba, centring resources on the current surge. Forty-one of those people are in intensive care. The data includes 62 people from the Northern Health Region, five of whom are in intensive care.
In the past five days, 22.5 per cent of all Manitobans who have received a PCR test for COVID-19 have tested positive. Twenty-nine Manitobans have died from COVID-19 since Feb. 7.
Travel restrictions into northern Manitoba remain in effect, but few tickets have been issued over the past 10 months as part of the restrictions, which are limited to people who are not entering the region for "essential purposes", who do not live in the region and who are not fully vaccinated. Only one ticket has been written up so far in 2022 for a violation of that restriction, which was, according to provincial data, the first ticket of its kind to be issued since May 2021.