While Manitoba moves toward the next stage of a COVID-19 reopening plan, most restrictions around northern travel will remain in place.
The second phase of Manitoba's reopening plan will include “direct travel” to campgrounds and lodges - provided those facilities can maintain physical distancing - but will not lift all restrictions on travel into northern Manitoba from the south. Travel from northern regions to the south and back and travel by northerners within the region has been technically allowed throughout the restriction period, despite being officially discouraged.
Public health officials have recommended only travelling for essential reasons. Even as rules on intraprovincial travel loosen, Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said May 27 that residents from both sides of the 53rd parallel should restrict travel if they can.
“In larger urban centres and remote isolated communities we need to be able to limit the chances of importing the virus into those communities,” he said.
“As we move forward, it’s a balance. We’ve been able to deal with this virus up to now, but we need to learn how to deal with this virus in the foreseeable future. We can’t keep stringent restrictions on forever… Nobody who is showing symptoms should be travelling.”
Roussin added restrictions and recommendations on travel should loosen more as time goes on.
“I’m not sure what the next increment will be,” he said.
“A lot of these decisions will be based on our epidemiology. At some point, just like any of our restrictions, they’re going to be lifted… if we continue to see numbers like this, we’re going to continue to loosen our restrictions.”
Roussin announced no new cases of COVID-19 Manitoba May 27, despite the province processing over 1,100 tests in the past 24 hours. Testing numbers have ramped up in the past week, as the province has opened tests to anyone who wants one.
Roussin said while the focus is still on testing Manitobans with symptoms, targeted asymptomatic testing has made up a bigger proportion of testing as time goes on.
“It’s not really our advice for anyone who isn’t showing symptoms to be tested,” Roussin said.
“We’re not planning on turning anyone away, but it’s certainly not our advice to do widespread asymptomatic testing.”
Roussin noted that phase two doesn’t mean Manitobans should stop performing the “fundamentals”, including hand-washing, physical distancing and staying home if you are sick. He also encouraged businesses and workers to continue practices like working from home if they are able.
“I would describe [the opening] as an appropriate timing and appropriate response to what we see in the levels of the virus here,” Roussin said.
“We move now to what we say is a broad reopening, but within those reopenings there’s restrictions. I think it’s a real safe plan, but it’s also a plan that acknowledges Manitobans have stepped up.”
One thing missing from any reopening plans is a potential return of quarantine free travel outside of Manitoba. Any irregular travel outside of the province requires the traveller to self-isolate for 14 days. Roussin said it depends on virus numbers in other jurisdictions before the province will tweak that portion of the public health order.
Travel between Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach is considered “regular” travel according to provincial officials and residents of all three communities are free to cross the border without self-isolating. Residents from Pelican Narrows, Sandy Bay, Deschambault Lake and others have been able to travel into the region for essential items like food, supplies and health services.
Roussin encouraged residents to go to gov.mb.ca/covid19 and businesses to visit engagemb.ca for more details on phase two of reopening.
“Manitobans have demonstrated they take this virus seriously,” he said.
“We’re going to rely on Manitobans and business operators to stay within these strict guidelines.”