Manitoba proposes next phase of reopening, including changes to household gathering rules

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government has released its plans for the largest phase of reopening yet – which could include changes to the rules for household gatherings and group fitness classes.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, made the announcement on Thursday during a news conference.

“Manitoba’s case numbers, test-positivity rate, health-care system admission rates continue to trend in the right direction, which allows us to consider reopening more services cautiously and safely,” he said.

The province reported one new death related to COVID-19, along with 70 new cases on Thursday.

The current public health orders in Manitoba are set to expire on March 5.

Roussin, calling it the largest reopening the province has done yet, said the proposed changes would be implemented in two phases over a six-week period, beginning on March 5, and again on March 26.

“It’s likely that it would still be a three-week evaluation of those orders,” he said. “It’s just that some, or all of these recommendations, may make it to the next iteration, they may make it to the three weeks following that.”

The changes would be considered for all of Manitoba which would remain under the red or critical level of the pandemic response system.

THE PROPOSED CHANGES TO HOUSEHOLD GATHERING RULES

This proposed next phase of reopening includes changes to the household gathering rules.

The province is considering having households choose one of two options – they can continue to designate two visitors in their home, or they can designate a second household to visit each other, as long as everyone in the household has authorized those designated individuals to visits. Households must choose only one of the options.

Outdoor gathering size limits would also potentially increase to 10 people. This limit would also be used for outdoor non-organized sport or recreation activities.

A provincial spokesperson said at present, no changes are being proposed to self-isolation rules for those coming into Manitoba.

MOST BUSINESSES TO REOPEN UNDER PROPOSED CHANGES

The province is considering allowing any type of business to operate, except for indoor theatres, indoor concert halls, casinos, and bingo halls.

Retail stores, malls, and personal services would be able to increase their capacity up to 50 per cent or 250 people, whichever is lower.

Restaurants and licensed premises may also be allowed to expand up to 50 per cent, though the requirements to sit with only members of your household, and other health measures would remain in effect.

“For this to be successful, we can’t have multiple households seated at the same table for prolonged periods of time,” Roussin said. “We’re going to go backwards, we’re going to start reporting outbreaks, and have to change things.”

Other proposed changes include allowing professional theatre groups, dance companies, symphonies or operas to resume rehearsals as long as rehearsals are not accessible to members of the public and dance, theatre and music facilities would be allowed to open for individual instruction and group classes for a total capacity of 25 per cent.

Businesses with video lottery terminals (VLTs) could also resume operation. Roussin said the VLTs will need to be either two metres apart or there must be a non-permeable barrier between them.

Manitoba is also considering allowing day camps for children to operate at 25 per cent capacity, but would cap the maximum group size at 50. Other public health measures would be in place.

GROUP FITNESS CLASSES MAY GET THE GO-AHEAD

Indoor recreation and sports facilities would be allowed to open for individual use, group instruction and practices only. Public health measures would be in place for spectators, common areas and locker rooms for a total capacity of 25 per cent.

The proposals would also allow gyms and fitness centres to provide group instruction or classes at 25 per cent capacity per class with physical distancing measures in place. The province is also considering allowing users of gyms, fitness centres and pools to not wear a mask while taking part in physical activity, but mask use would be required in other areas of the facility.

PROPOSED EASED RESTRICTIONS ON PLACES OF WORSHIP

For places of worship, Manitoba is considering increasing the capacity size to 25 per cent or 100 people, whichever is lower. Physical distancing measures and mask requirements would be in place.

Roussin reminded Manitobans it would remain crucial to follow the fundamentals to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially as variants of concern are now present in Canada. This includes regular handwashing, staying home when ill, and wearing a mask.

“These are all things that we’re going to need to continue to do, as we reopen things, to ensure our numbers don’t spike again,” he said.

He said his biggest concern is seeing November and December numbers in Manitoba again, when COVID-19 cases spiked.

“We’re just starting to get into spring; we’re just nearing where we’re starting to get more and more vaccine, so we’re at a real important part of our pandemic, where we’ve got to keep these numbers down,” he said. “We have the numbers down, so we also have to try and get things open again, but we have to be very cautious.”

Manitobans can give their feedback on EngageMB.

Roussin said the potential changes will be announced next week.

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