Manitobans will be able to gather in small groups this weekend — the only change being made right now to strict pandemic rules, but one the province’s top doctor hopes will provide some relief for residents isolated for the past three weeks.
On Wednesday, public health officials announced outdoor public gatherings of up to five people will be allowed as of Saturday.
As well, up to five visitors from no more than two different households — in addition to residents — will be allowed outdoors on private property, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference.
That means up to three households in total — including the hosting household — can gather in someone’s yard.
There’s no limit on the number of households that can gather in outdoor public spaces, as long as the total number of people doesn’t exceed five.
WATCH | Roussin announces the new orders:
The changes come into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. All other current restrictions will remain in place, Roussin said, which means indoor private gatherings will still be prohibited.
“We still have significant demands on our health-care system, so we’re not in a position to open everything at once certainly, but we are in a position to slowly ease, very minimally, some of our restrictions,” he said.
“Although the public health orders will allow for some small outdoor gatherings, people are reminded to minimize the amount of contacts you have outside of your household, to stick with those fundamentals to ensure distancing, to wear masks at appropriate times.”
A strict order prohibiting all gatherings — both indoors and outdoors — has been in place since before the May long weekend.
Retail businesses are still capped at 10 per cent capacity or 100 occupants, whichever is lower. Restaurants are still limited to takeout or delivery service only — patios are still not permitted to open.
WATCH | Not yet time to reopen, Roussin says:
“This isn’t really signalling an opening,” Roussin said. “This is really more of a release valve.”
Roussin says details on Manitoba’s reopening plan will be released on Thursday.
Working to free up hospital capacity: Siragusa
The health-care system continues to be challenged, Shared Health Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa said at Wednesday’s news conference.
Right now, 15 more nurses are about a week into a two-week-long critical care nursing orientation, as part of efforts to help treat patients in Manitoba intensive care units, she said.
“We will continue to recruit and orientate staff as the demand requires so that we can meet the needs of Manitobans,” she said.
Siragusa says steps are being taken to create capacity in hospitals.
Since April, 418 stable patients have been moved from hospitals into personal care homes.
As well, 43 patients with COVID-19 are being treated virtually, including 31 who are on oxygen at home.
Since the virtual COVID-19 program launched in December, it’s saved 1,337 hospital in-patient days, Siragusa says.
“All these efforts I’ve outlined have freed up substantial capacity within the hospital…. However, while case counts are improving and more people are getting vaccinated every day, we are not quite out of the woods yet,” Siragusa said.
She says a number of cardiac patients also went to Ontario for elective surgeries last week.
“We anticipate the support of other provinces will remain important.”
The provincial government posted on online survey last Friday to seek Manitobans’ input on how to begin returning to normalcy as COVID-19 vaccination uptake climbs.
Questions aimed to gauge the level of fear of contracting COVID-19 while also asking about vaccination status, the province’s vaccine rollout so far, how people’s lives would be impacted if certain things were to reopen and what people would like to see reopen first.
One question asked how being able to travel within Canada without self-isolation, attending events and visiting loved ones in personal care homes or hospitals would improve an individual’s quality of life.
Part of that scenario moved from hypothetical to reality on Tuesday, when Premier Brian Pallister announced the implementation of immunization cards for fully vaccinated people two weeks after they’ve received their second dose.
It will permit them to travel within Canada without having to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return to Manitoba.
Provincial restrictions currently require every visitor or resident entering Manitoba to isolate for two weeks upon arrival. Those orders have been in place in one form or another since April 2020.
Manitoba health-care facilities, including hospitals and personal care homes, will also permit expanded visitation if both the patient or resident and the visitor are fully vaccinated, and additional benefits will be announced in the coming weeks, Pallister said.