Premier says Manitoba will ‘almost certainly’ ease pandemic restrictions, but it’s unclear when

Premier Brian Pallister says Manitoba will “almost certainly” ease pandemic restrictions in the new year — but it’s unclear what pandemic measures will be eased and when.

The red-level restrictions imposed on the entire province are set to expire on Jan. 8.

They include a ban on indoor social gatherings with people you don’t live with, the limitation of restaurants to take-out and delivery service and the closure of places of worship, gyms, theatres, non-essential retail stores and other businesses.

On Wednesday, Pallister was asked whether the province will ease some of these restrictions during the first three months of 2021.

“I think it’s almost certainly some easing of restrictions,” Pallister told reporters. 

“But, yes, I feel very, very certain as a former coach, teacher, parent, common-sense person that we have to be very, very careful that we remain diligent, that we remain disciplined, that we remain motivated by caring and compassion for those who are more vulnerable.”

Pallister suggested the province could pull back on restrictions as long as Manitobans exercise the discipline to observe public health orders.

He suggested Manitobans displayed that discipline for “eight of the last 10 months” of the pandemic.

“When we show that discipline, we have every reason to be proud of ourselves. And when we don’t, we have every reason to be ashamed of ourselves,” he said.

The premier said the province will float some ideas next week and seek feedback from the public.

One day earlier, the province’s acting deputy public health officer suggested some restrictions will be in place for many months.

“To be quite frank, I mean, I can’t see us getting out of all of our restrictions in the near future,” Dr. Jazz Atwal said on Tuesday.

“When we look at a vaccine program, when we look at how long that takes to vaccinate the bulk of Manitobans, it’s going to be months and months.”

Dr. Brent Roussin, the Chief Provincial Public Health Officer, has said the province can not ease restrictions until hospitalization numbers decrease, test-positivity rates decline and daily case counts drop.

All three metrics have decreased somewhat in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, Manitoba had 337 COVID-19 patients in hospital, down from a peak of 398. The seven-day average daily case count was 163, down from a peak of 424 in late November.

The five-day provincial test-positivity rate remains 12.6 per cent, which is more than four times what Roussin has described as a concerning level for community transmission.