Manitoba’s top doctor says it’s time to heal after WHO declares end of global COVID-19 emergency

Manitoba’s top doctor called on people to move forward following the World Health Organization’s declaration that the global COVID-19 emergency is over.

“That doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over … but I do think that we need to find ways to heal,” Dr. Brent Roussin told CBC’s Up to Speed host Faith Fundal on Friday.

The United Nations’ health agency said thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week.

Roussin said it will likely be around for years and that the province still needs to be prepared for the respiratory virus season.

But Manitoba is in a “much better position” than it was earlier in the pandemic due widespread vaccinations, immunity and the declining number of infections, he said.

The WHO declared COVID-19 an international emergency on Jan. 30, 2020. This subsequently led to unprecedented lockdowns, economic upheaval and the deaths of more than 52,000 people in Canada and at least seven million people worldwide.

In Manitoba, at least 397 people have died of COVID-19 this year and six of those deaths were reported in the week of April 23-29, according to the most recent report.

LISTEN | Dr. Brent Roussin speaks about COVID-19 

Up To Speed8:24WHO says COVID ‘not a global emergency,’ Manitoba chief provincial public health officer responds

Dr. Brent Roussin speaks with Faith Fundal after the World Health Organization declaration

Roussin said Manitoba used extraordinary measures to stem the tide of COVID-19 in the province, but they are not a normal way to deal with health issues.

“If you think about the pre-pandemic years, there’s always been people who have been vulnerable, susceptible, and more at risk than others. But we don’t deal with that in a restrictive manner,” he said.

Most masking requirements for Manitoba health-care facilities are set to be lifted next week, but some individual health-care clinics may still require people to wear masks indoors, Shared Health said on Wednesday.

Workers, visitors and patients will still be required to wear masks in environments with vulnerable groups, such as cancer and transplant patients.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 continues to cause harm, as Manitobans over the age of 80 and those with severe underlying conditions make up a significant proportion of deaths from the virus, Roussin said.

The province continues to prioritize those groups when it comes to vaccine eligibility, but “we don’t use coercive means or mandates to do that.”

‘You should wear a mask’

Cancer survivor Nicky Stewart told CBC News that she feels the government has done enough to prevent people from getting sick, but that she still plans to wear a mask at the grocery store and in other crowded places.

“I still think that you should wear a mask, just in case,” she said. “I’m immunocompromised. I’ve had cancer five times, so I’m wearing a mask.”

A group of protestors are pictured.
Protesters rallying against COVID-19 health restrictions took over the Manitoba legislative grounds in Winnipeg for nearly three weeks in Feb. 2022. (CBC)

The number of COVID-19-related intensive care unit admissions dropped from six to three last week, while hospital admissions dropped from 45 to 31 compared with the week before, according to the province’s respiratory illness surveillance data.

The test positivity rate went down to 11.5 per cent from 15.1 per cent in the week earlier period, according to the most data.

Wastewater surveillance data up to April 25 indicated sustained activity of COVID-19 in Winnipeg and Brandon, but at lower levels compared to the same time last year, shortly after most public health orders were lifted.

Roussin said he’s optimistic that people will start to heal from societal divisions that arose during the pandemic. 

“I’m quite hopeful, especially in Manitoba. We know what Manitobans are made of,” he said.