WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government may reopen casinos and movie theatres, raise caps on public gatherings, and lift COVID-19 restrictions on inter-provincial travellers as soon as Saturday.
The Progressive Conservative government released a draft plan Tuesday for its fourth phase of reopenings following the initial clamp down as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada. Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba's low case numbers have paved the way for easing restrictions.
"We have, in many respects, led the country in protecting ourselves from COVID and we're planning to lead the country in recovering from COVID as well," Pallister said.
Manitoba has recorded 366 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases to date — a lower rate than most other provinces. Seven people have died and 41 cases remained active Tuesday. The province had dropped to one active case on July 13, but has seen an outbreak on a few Hutterite colonies in recent days and a couple of positive tests among international travellers.
Pallister's new plan, subject to public consultation over the next few days, would see casinos and movie theatres be allowed to open their doors for the first time in months, at 50 per cent capacity.
Public gathering limits would rise to 75 from 50 for indoor events and to 250 from 100 for outdoor functions.
The plan also proposes lifting the 14-day self-isolation requirement for all domestic travellers. Currently, anyone entering Manitoba from the Atlantic provinces and Quebec, as well as Ontario communities east of Terrace Bay — a small community on Lake Superior — are required to self-isolate for two weeks.
Pallister said Manitoba is the only province outside the Atlantic region with such a rule for domestic visitors, and doing away with it can be done safely.
"We've demonstrated that we have the discipline to live with each other while maintaining ... distancing, while doing our hand-washing, while keeping each other safe," Pallister said.
"I would say to those who are afraid, I'm afraid too, I'm afraid too. But I'm not going to let fear rule my life and I'd ask you not to let fear rule yours."
The Opposition New Democrats said the government should hire more nurses and child-care workers as more businesses open up, and also consider a greater focus on masks.
"The province should start encouraging Manitobans (to) wear masks as a reasonable tradeoff to keep families safe as additional reopening measures are implemented," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in a written statement.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont criticized the loosening of interprovincial travel rules.
"The Premier seems to think that Manitoba is somehow immune from COVID-19. We have not beaten it. We have only kept it at bay," Lamont said.
The government's draft plan would also allow nursing home residents to have more visitors and would allow religious services, powwows and cultural celebrations to operate at 50 per cent capacity or 500 people, whichever is lower. Currently, the gatherings are limited to 30 per cent capacity and 100 people.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2020
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press