Manitoba ties vaccination goals to summer holidays but reopening plan short on details

Manitoba has laid out the broad strokes of a “one great summer reopening path” out of COVID-19 restrictions, which focuses on scaling back public health orders as vaccination levels rise over the course of the summer.

Reopening is tied to holidays and immunization targets, so if more than 70 per cent of all Manitobans age 12 and older have received their first vaccine dose and over 25 per cent have received their second dose by Canada Day, businesses, services and facilities can open at 25 per cent capacity or greater levels.

As of Thursday, 68 per cent had those first shots while the second-dose rate was at 14.2 per cent.

If 75 per cent or more have received a first dose and over 50 per cent have received a second dose by the August long weekend, the capacity increases to 50 per cent.

If the mark of 80 per cent with one dose and 75 per cent with two doses is met by Labour Day, the reopening levels will increase, though some limits will remain.

If those targets are reached sooner, things will reopen sooner, Premier Brian Pallister said on Thursday.

Asked what the limited restrictions on Labour Day might look like, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin would only say “not many.”

The information released by Pallister and Roussin was vague on details, failing to reveal which businesses and services would be prioritized or numbers for increased gathering sizes.

WATCH | Pallister announces Manitoba summer reopening ‘path’:

Saying ‘it’s time for Manitobans to get their freedoms back,’ Premier Brian Pallister unveiled the four-category ‘path’ the province will use to reopen this summer and lift restrictions put in place to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 2:33

Roussin said they intentionally left room for flexibility in the plan. Public health officials will reveal more details closer to those milestone dates, he said.

There is also no information about how or whether pandemic indicators, such as test positivity rates, case counts, ICU admissions or hospital capacity, factor into the reopenings.

Roussin said it all depends on the trends at the time and the burden on the health-care system.

The main message he wants to get across is that there are two things Manitobans have full control over: following public health orders and getting vaccinated.

“This communication is specifically for that,” he said, adding public health officials will review the health indicators “as we always do.”

“We take into consideration a number of those.”

Reporters asked why hospitalization rates are not being factored into the plan in a more specific way, as has been done in some other provinces. Pallister said he was aware of seven plans that included those rates and four have already departed from them.

“Everybody’s in a battle against an unprecedented, adversarial opponent,” he said.

“We’ve linked it very specifically to vaccine targets because vaccine levels is one of the absolute key determinants on our progress in beating COVID.”

He added that too much detail in this plan too early could amount to providing false hope.

Other provinces chose the route of outlining specific potential freedoms only to have to scale those back, Pallister said.

Roussin was asked what happens if Manitobans meet the targets for vaccinations, but ICUs are still overwhelmed and test positivity rates are still high.

“Public health is looking at all the indicators. We really set these vaccine targets with the idea that knowing … if we start reaching these levels, we’re not going to expect to see high test positivity or high demands in our ICUs,” he said.

“Our ICUs are not filling with vaccinated Manitobans.”

Roussin was asked what the plan is if Manitoba sees a fourth wave among the unvaccinated, even if a vaccine target is met.

“We’ll have to deal with the specifics when we see it,” he said, repeating his line about health officials following all indicators and adjusting where necessary.

Vaccines will bring down the number of people requiring hospitalization because there will be less severe outcomes from infections, Roussin said, so case numbers that currently strain the health-care system might not later.

“So it’s hard to speak hypothetically of what may or may not occur. But we feel this plan is setting us up for a safe reopening strategy,” he said.

On Wednesday, officials announced slightly eased public health orders will allow small outdoor gatherings starting Saturday.

Groups of up to five people will be allowed outside. On private property, they can come from a maximum of three different households, including the host.

Those new orders come into effect Saturday and will remain in effect until June 26, at 12:01 a.m. Pallister said more details will be offered to help refine the reopening strategy at that time.

Roussin said Wednesday that the shift doesn’t signal it’s time for reopening just yet — instead, it was more of a “release valve.”

He was asked Thursday about the possibility of outdoor sports returning and said enthusiastically that “we see these moving forward” as vaccine rates continue to climb.

And as vaccination progresses, it will also allow a return to indoor activities, he said.

“Again, we’ll have the specifics of all these outlined prior to each [reopening] phase,” Roussin said.

“But I do think there should be plans certainly for outdoor activities, outdoor sports, this summer.”