Stricter public health orders coming to Manitoba today as COVID-19 cases soar

More public health restrictions are coming to Manitoba and will be announced later Friday, Premier Brian Pallister says.

Pallister said at a news conference the stricter rules are needed to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases, but hopes they are only necessary for a few weeks.

“They are necessary in order for us to make sure that we do not allow ourselves to impose an additional burden on our health-care system that is not one we can sustain,” he said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, later today, [Chief Provincial Public Health Officer] Dr. [Brent] Roussin will be announcing additional restrictions that will come into effect immediately.”

Roussin’s news conference is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.

Doubling of fines

Pallister also took aim on Friday at those who rebuff Manitoba’s COVID-19 public health orders.

After admonishing people who refuse to abide by the rules — and those who are antagonistic toward public health enforcement officers — he announced a doubling of the fines for repeat offenders.

That means individuals can face tickets of $2,592 for various offences, while fines to businesses could jump to $10,000.

And those who repeatedly refuse to wear masks in public can be dinged $596.

“The vast majority of Manitobans are following the fundamentals, they are following the rules. I say thank you for doing that and please keep doing that,” Pallister said.

“But there is a small, selfish minority of people that aren’t doing their part. And in doing so, they’re putting the health of themselves and others at risk.”

Pallister also announced a doubling the default payment fee for those who fail to pay fines on time.

According to recent data, about 90 per cent of the money from pandemic-related fines in Manitoba has yet to be paid.

Pallister promised that would be taken care of through some stringent measures.

“I’m saying to those folks, you will pay your fine. And if you do not, you will not be driving your car. We will not issue you a driver’s licence. You can put your car up on blocks and you can leave it there until you pay your fine,” he said.

“And if you don’t drive, we will garnish your wages. You will pay.

“It’s important for you to understand this clearly. Your behaviour is a danger to you but it’s more importantly a danger to other people.”

He then urged people to keep the rules in mind this Mother’s Day weekend. That includes no visiting anyone at their private residence.

“Give your mother flowers, not COVID,” he said.

COVID-19 sick leave

Pallister also announced a new pandemic sick leave benefit to fill the gaps between federal help and the province’s current programs.

Employers will get $600 per employee to cover up to five full days of COVID-19-related sick leave, he said at Friday morning’s news conference. The sick days do not have to be taken consecutively.

The sick leave can be taken for COVID-19 testing, vaccination appointments, vaccination side-effects, self-isolation after a positive test, or caring for a loved one in any of those circumstances.

Many Canadian provinces have faced growing calls to offer paid leave to people who are experiencing COVID-like symptoms but have not received a positive test.

Doctors and nurses, public health officials, mayors, unions, economists and business organizations have all expressed support for leave to make sure workers stay home if they are sick and to help reduce workplace transmission of COVID-19.

Across Canada, only about 42 per cent of adults who are employed have access to paid sick days, according to the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

Yukon created a paid sick leave program to battle the pandemic more than a year ago, and the idea is under consideration in B.C.

This week, under pressure to control workplace transmission in COVID-19 hot spots in and around Toronto, Ontario announced it would fund a temporary paid leave program to cover three sick days.

Until now, Pallister has repeatedly put the onus on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop a national program.

Asked by reporters Friday if his delay in instituting sick leave contributed to Manitoba’s third wave of COVID-19 cases, Pallister again blamed the federal government for failing to provide a better program.