WINNIPEG — The mask mandate is being removed in Manitoba as the province moves from COVID-19 restrictions to public health recommendations in its next step of reopening.
"Thanks to the remarkable efforts of Manitobans, we are now in a position to reopen more, sooner, as we have achieved our highest vaccination rates yet," Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday.
Pallister saidManitobans will be able to enjoy more freedoms when the rules change Saturday, as the province inches closer to its next vaccination milestone.
Eighty per cent of eligible people have received one dose of a vaccine and more than 71 per cent are fully vaccinated with two doses.
The next phase of the plan was set for Sept. 6 and required 75 per cent, or about 25,000 more people, to have two vaccine doses.
Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba's vaccination effort, said based on current rates of vaccination that target should be hit very soon.
The province's plan will see many public health restrictions become recommendations.
All restrictions are removed for private gatherings and businesses, including hair salons, libraries, retail stores, malls and gyms.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, said individual businesses will make their own decisions about whether to continue requiring masks or restricting the number of people inside.
The rules around capacity will be loosened for religious services, weddings and funerals. Museums, galleries and movie theatres can still only have 50 per cent capacity but can open up to unvaccinated people.
Sporting events and casinos can open to full capacity but will be restricted only to those who are fully vaccinated.
Restaurants and bars will no longer need to restrict the space between tables and people dining are not required to eat with only those in their household.
Masks are no longer required but are strongly recommended for people who have been unvaccinated, Roussin added. They will still be necessary when going into a hospital or care home.
Roussin said it's the largest loosening of restrictions in the province since the beginning of the pandemic.
Federal officials warned last week that Canada could be on the brink of a fourth wave of COVID-19 driven by the Delta variant if the country opens too fast before enough people have been vaccinated.
Manitoba Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said a mask mandate for indoor settings should still be in place considering the information about the spread of the Delta variant, even among those who are vaccinated.
"I think masks still make sense," he said.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont criticized the reopening plan, saying the government did not learn its lessons from the second and third waves of the pandemic, which saw significant infection and hospitalization in the province.
"This is a government that has continually showed a complete lack of judgment at every stage of the pandemic, and Manitobans are the ones that have paid and will pay the ultimate price," Lamont said.
Infection rates in Manitoba have seen a significant decline, Roussin said, despite more of the spread being made up of the Delta variant. There's also less pressure on the health-care system, he added.
"Moving forward, we will have to watch our numbers very carefully," he said.
There were 101 new cases of the virus reported since Friday — 22 of which were on Tuesday — and three additional deaths.
Alberta and Saskatchewan have recently faced immense criticism for removing all, or nearly all, of their COVID-19 health orders, including isolation requirements.
Pallister said his Progressive Conservative government's plan has moved slower in lifting restrictions and has not gone as far as its neighbours.
"We have to learn how to live with COVID."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2021.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press