Manitoba government seeks feedback on further relaxation of COVID-19 rules

·2 min read

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is looking at easing many of its COVID-19 restrictions as the province's pandemic indicators continue to improve.

A set of proposed changes released Thursday includes doubling capacity limits in stores and restaurants, as well as for personal services, to 50 per cent. Seating at restaurant tables would still be limited to members of the same household.

Indoor religious services could operate at 25 per cent capacity instead of the current 10 per cent.

Indoor arcades and outdoor amusement parks could reopen with capacity limits. The few facilities that would have to remain closed include theatres, concert halls and casinos.

The cap on outdoor gatherings would rise to 10 people from five. And instead of households being permitted to only designate two people as visitors, the province could allow two-household bubbles so entire families could get together.

"Manitoba's case numbers, test positivity rate (and) health-care-system admission rates continue to trend in the right direction, which allows us to consider reopening more services cautiously and safely," said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer.

The proposed changes could take effect as early as March 5 and are subject to public feedback before any final decisions are made, he said. Changes could also be phased in.

Health officials reported 70 new COVID-19 cases and one death Thursday. Three cases from unspecified dates were removed due to data correction for a net increase of 67.

The province's case count has dropped sharply since a severe spike in the fall when Manitoba led all the provinces in the per-capita rate of new infections. The strain on intensive care units has eased and the test positivity rate has dropped from 13 per cent to 4.3.

The proposed changes could also mean big shifts for sports enthusiasts and players of video lottery terminals. VLTs would be allowed to operate again as long as they were two metres apart or separated by physical barriers.

Indoor gyms and fitness facilities could offer group classes again, although with a 25 per cent capacity limit.

Roussin said there is a risk in such indoor settings.

"There is risk involved with all these things and we're weighing the benefit ... to having businesses open, the benefit for people (of) physical activity," he said.

"It's very cautious and 25 per cent capacity, I think, gives us that ability to have people spaced out quite a bit."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press