‘It’s not fair’: Acupuncturist speaks out after being labelled ‘non-essential’ in Manitoba’s lockdown

WINNIPEG — The province has deemed acupuncture ‘non-essential’ under code red restrictions, but patients and practitioners want to see that change.

Code red restrictions in response to COVID-19 are in effect across Manitoba, which outlines which health-related therapies people can access – acupuncture is not one of them.

On Monday, Acupuncture patient Michele Kotak felt good enough to get outside and have a snowball fight with her daughter. She said not every day is like this.

“I get joint swelling that I can’t get up in the morning,” Kotak told CTV News. “I will have such bad back pain where I just can’t get up. I can’t go play with my girl. I can’t pick her up. I am crawling on the floor even just to get out of bed.”

Kotak has been using acupuncture to manage chronic pain related to an autoimmune disease. She told CTV News it is the only therapy that has helped in the long term.

“They were about to increase my pain medicine a lot and really quickly,” she explained. “Acupuncture was able to keep me at the same pain level, so I haven’t had to increase my medication in a year and a half.”

Her last appointment was right before the code red shutdown took effect. She said she usually goes once every two weeks, but more often if she’s dealing with serious pain.

A provincial spokesperson told CTV News the public health orders state that regulated professions and massage therapists can continue to provide services, but because acupuncture is not a regulated profession, the treatment cannot be provided right now.

Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said public health orders need to balance what is considered essential and keeping Manitobans at home. He said he hopes the order is in place for a relatively short period of time.

“When you write these lists you’re going to have some people on one side, some people on the other side,” he said. “We continually review those types of things.”

Winnipeg acupuncturist Priscilla Kerr said she was shocked that acupuncture was not allowed to continue to operate under critical code red.

“There was a little bit of denial to honest, I couldn’t believe that was the case,” she told CTV News.

She sent a letter to public health officials, Manitoba’s health minister and Premier Brian Pallister asking why licenced acupuncturists cannot continue practicing. She is also in contact with her local MLA.

Kerr, who is also a spokesperson for The Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Association of Canada, said there is very low risk of transmission during an acupuncture appointment because PPE and physical distancing requirements are followed.

She said practitioners typically have only five to eight minutes of contact with each patient.

“The saddest thing is, I work at Manitoba clinic right outside health sciences centre, and 40 per cent of my clients are health care workers,” she said.

Other regulated healthcare professionals trained in needling can perform acupuncture during the lockdown, but Kotak said it’s not the same.

‘I don’t agree with this. I think it’s not fair and I think a lot of people who are benefitting and need constant treatment need their acupuncture,” she said. 

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