Manitoba has switched up its provincial public health orders, putting a mask mandate back in place for indoor spaces starting Saturday and lifting all activity restrictions for fully vaccinated people.
Starting Sept. 3, restrictions remaining for indoor and outdoor sporting events, concerts, restaurants, nightclubs and bars, casinos and bingo halls, movie theatres, gyms and indoor sports and recreation facilities and indoor group recreation classes will be totally lifted for all fully vaccinated Manitobans. Children aged 11 and under who aren't eligible for vaccination can attend these events, but only with a fully vaccinated adult.
The new health orders, according to new Manitoba health minister Audrey Gordon and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, are meant to strike a compromise - to keep Manitobans safe while limiting the risk of a possible fourth wave, due to the Canada-wide emergence of the Delta COVID-19 variant.
"These orders are here to try and reduce the transmission of the virus, as well as reduce the future need for further lockdowns. We wanted to do whatever we can avoid further lockdowns and ensuring that only fully vaccinated people take part in some of these higher-risk activities is one such method of doing that," Roussin said.
“The emergence of the delta variant has changed things significantly. Now, public health officials tell us the pandemic is one of the unimmunized and we must take these extra steps to protect the nearly 230,000 children who are not yet eligible for immunization,” said Gordon.
“Manitoba’s vaccine passport benefit will help encourage greater vaccine uptake, which is necessary to protect our health-care system from the COVID-19 fourth wave.”
Gordon also said the province's decision to open up venues and events for fully vaccinated people only was based on public health knowledge and epidemiology tied to the fourth wave in Manitoba and other jurisdictions - while non-vaccinated people make up less than a third of Manitoba's total population, they accounted for well over 80 per cent of the province's new cases August 27 and most of Manitoba's COVID-19 related hospital and ICU admissions.
"We know there is more we need to do to protect Manitobans. The emergence of the Delta variant has changed things significantly. Now, public health officials tell us the pandemic is one of the unimmunized," said Gordon.
The mask mandate will cover all Manitoba public indoor public places, including stores, schools and other large spaces. All five Manitoba health regions, including the Northern Health Region, will be subject to the new rules. Places of worship, including churches, are not subject to the mask rules.
"This includes schools across the province," said Roussin.
Access will require a QR code or card from Manitoba's vaccination pass system, which a person can receive after getting both COVID-19 vaccine doses. Out of province residents who are fully vaccinated but do not have a similar card can present an equivalent from their place of residence.
The changes also have the support of Manitoba's largest community business organization, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Loren Remillard said removing restrictions while continuing mask mandates would strike a balance between keeping Manitoba safe from a Delta-driven fourth wave of COVID-19 while also keeping businesses from shutting down.
“Unless immediate and strong measures are taken, the fourth COVID-19 wave would likely lead to another round of business restrictions or closures. Such a scenario would be absolutely devastating to business and our community. The Winnipeg Chamber supports today’s actions to avert the human and economic turmoil being seen in other provinces,” said Remillard.
“We will continue to work with our members to ensure they have the tools they need to support the province's public health orders.”
Throughout Manitoba, 76 per cent of people eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine have received both shots. just over 400,000 people province-wide have not had at least one vaccine shot - the majority of that group being children ages 0-11, who are not currently eligible to be vaccinated.
The new orders do not mandate that all staff members for private businesses have to be vaccinated. For sporting events, parents, coaches and staff will need to be fully vaccinated to watch or participate, as well as players who are eligible to be vaccinated.
Mask mandates will not apply within workout areas in gyms or in play areas for organized sports. No formal end date has been announced for the new restrictions, but Manitoba has typically gone at least three to four weeks between tweaks to public health orders.