More store openings and household visits may be allowed under Manitoba COVID-19 rules

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WINNIPEG — Manitobans may soon be able to get a hair cut, buy non-essential items in stores and have visitors in their homes for the first time since November.

The provincial government released a plan Tuesday which, subject to public feedback, would ease some of the restrictions aimed at keeping COVID-19 in check.

"We think that this is a prudent approach, a very cautious approach, and we'll continue to loosen things as long as our numbers allow us to," said Manitoba's chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin.

The proposed changes would lift a ban that currently requires non-essential stores to close. The businesses would be allowed to reopen with the same 25 per cent capacity limit that essential retailers now face.

Hair salons, barber shops, reflexologists and some other personal services would also reopen under the plan.

And a ban on most social visits in private homes, which currently has small exemptions for people who live alone, would be eased to allow two visitors at a time inside and five on outdoor private property.

Many other restrictions would remain in place. Tattoo parlours, dine-in restaurants, bars and recreational sports leagues would remain closed.

"Prolonged indoor contact is where this virus spreads," Roussin said.

"When you look at the loosening (of) restrictions we have right now, they're not including places that really have the prolonged, enclosed contact."

A final decision on the proposals is expected Thursday. Any changes would take effect Saturday and would not likely include the northern part of the province, where case numbers are still running high, Roussin added.

Manitoba imposed the restrictions in the fall when the province was leading all others in the per-capita rate of new infections. Since then, the daily count of new cases has dropped in southern and central regions, although the demand on intensive care beds remains above pre-pandemic capacity.

Health-care officials reported 111 new cases Tuesday and 11 deaths.

The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce said it was hoping to see more businesses, such as restaurants, given the go-ahead to reopen with capacity limits. The group said the ongoing uncertainty over when businesses might get closer to normal operations is causing anxiety.

"These are businesses that had to shut their doors, in many cases have zero revenue coming in, have had to lay off employees. It's been an extremely challenging time," said the group's president, Chuck Davidson.

The Opposition New Democrats called on the Progressive Conservative government to offer more financial aid to businesses and to provide some sort of timeline on when more might reopen.

"Those businesses that won't be allowed to reopen this round … would all appreciate greater clarity as to when they may be part of the reopening plan," said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press