Lockdown saving lives, top doc says, as Manitobans asked to weigh in on ‘cautious’ lift of restrictions

Manitoba’s partial lockdown is saving lives, provincial officials say, as they prepare the public for a “cautious and slow” reopening to come.

Broad public health restrictions brought in over the past two months likely saved an estimated 1,700 lives since Nov. 12, when the province first moved to red-level rules, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said at a news conference Friday.

“We’ve lost many Manitobans and our hearts go out to those families. But we can see from our restrictions we’ve saved many more,” Roussin said.

“This virus does not discriminate and certainly our lives cannot return to normal at this point.”

Roussin’s estimate is based on the trajectory the province was on in early November, he said. In recent weeks, the province has seen test positivity rates decline, daily case counts improve and the numbers of COVID-19 patients hospitalized gradually decreasing.

But Roussin said any loosening of restrictions will be “very cautious and slow.”

Manitoba’s current public health orders are set to expire on Jan. 22. On Friday, the province launched an online survey about the next stage of COVID-19 restrictions, Premier Brian Pallister announced at the news conference.

The survey will ask the public questions about their perspective on the risk of the virus, COVID-19 vaccines and how comfortable they are with various activities.

The survey will also ask about the public’s priorities for reopening, including possible increases to indoor and outdoor gathering sizes and possible changes to expand in-person shopping and reopening various businesses.

Pallister said the province expects to float some recommendations for possible changes to the public health orders early next week.

Changes announced to the rules will ultimately be guided by public health experts, he said. However, Pallister said a public survey is a good tool to let Manitobans voice their thoughts and build public buy-in.

“If they impact on people, then people should have a chance to see what they are, so they can make sure that they’re abiding by those changes if there are changes recommended by Dr. Roussin,” Pallister said.