Manitoba mulls options for relaxing retail, gathering restrictions for all but northern region

Many Manitobans could soon have a small number of friends and family over to their properties and shop for anything they want at a store after enduring two months of the toughest lockdown since the start of the pandemic.

The province released a range of options it’s considering for private gatherings and the reopening of stores for all regions except the hard-hit north.

“The actions and hard work and sacrifices of Manitobans has continued to make a difference,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer. “Overall our numbers are headed in a good direction, and that means that we can start looking at what a reopening might look like.”

The current household orders could be loosened to allow two additional people, family or friends, to visit a household, outdoor visits of up to five people in addition to members of the household on private property, and funerals up to 10 people, plus an officiant.

All stores could be allowed to re-open, as long as they maintain physical distancing and occupancy limits of 25 per cent up to a maximum of 250 people. Eliminating the list of restricted non-essential items is also floated.

Non regulated-health services such as reflexologists, as well as personal services such as barber shops and hair stylists, could reopen as long as they also follow health precautions.

The relaxed orders, which are merely proposals at this point, could come into effect as soon as 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, when the current public health restrictions expire, and last three weeks.

A ‘cautious approach’

Roussin stressed that the province is taking a “cautious approach,” saying that the more interactions people have, the more opportunity the virus that causes COVID-19 has to transmit. Manitoba case numbers began to increase sharply in late October and November, despite some health restrictions in place at the time, and Roussin said he doesn’t want to see that happen again.

(Bryce Hoye/CBC)

“We don’t want to go back and forth. We want to have a slow cautious approach so that we can continue reopening over time and not have to go back and close certain things again.”

The proposed changes don’t include reopening businesses, like restaurants or gyms, or allowing religious services. The reason stores are allowed to reopen, but not restaurants, is due to the fact people go in and out of stores without remaining in close contact for a long time, Roussin said. 

“In restaurants, this is prolonged, indoor contact. So we know that this adds to the risk,” he said.

Winnipeg and several surrounding communities moved to the red level — the highest level on the province’s pandemic response system — on Nov. 2, and the rest of the province followed on Nov. 12.

Restrictions tightened further on Nov. 20, when the province reduced the number of household visitors allowed in most cases to zero and imposed an outright ban on the sale of non-essential items in stores.

Daily cases have fallen steadily reaching their peak in late November. New confirmed cases have come down 77 per cent from a high of 487 on Nov. 28 to 111 on Tuesday.

The province says its options for relaxing restrictions were informed by a survey that received 67,500 responses between Friday and Monday. Manitobans are asked to provide feedback on their preferences through the engagemb.ca website.