Manitoba

No state of emergency declaration in Winnipeg, mayor says during COVID-19 response update

Mayor Brian Bowman and Jason Shaw, manager of the City of Winnipeg's emergency operations centre, gave an update Tuesday afternoon on the city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Bowman and city manager Jason Shaw spoke Tuesday afternoon at city hall

Jason Shaw, the City of Winnipeg's emergency operations centre manager, and Mayor Brian Bowman gave an update Tuesday on the city's COVID-19 response. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

There is no need for the City of Winnipeg to declare a local state of emergency right now, the city's mayor and emergency operations manager said during an update on Winnipeg's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city is working "in lockstep" with provincial officials, who declared a provincewide state of emergency last week, to reassess the situation each day, said Jason Shaw, the manager of the city's emergency operations centre.

"If there's a need for us to declare a state of local emergency, we will do so," he said.

Shaw and Mayor Brian Bowman spoke at city hall Tuesday afternoon to reporters who joined via conference call about the city's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

"Winnipeggers like you are taking concrete action to make sure that physical distancing doesn't mean turning your back," Bowman said, thanking the residents of the city for making it better.

"Winnipeggers have a reputation for generosity. We're the kind of people who help out our neighbours," he said, adding there is no more appropriate time to step up and offer to check in on others, pick up groceries and donate blood.

Pandemic response

Shaw said the city's emergency operations centre is continuing to operate at Level 2. That level of response, announced last Tuesday, means less face-to-face contact and deploying more staff to the centre, which oversees emergency preparedness and risk analysis on a daily basis.

"At the front lines, the focus is on first responders," he said, meaning police, fire and paramedic crews, and others working directly with those affected by COVID-19.

City-owned recreational centres, libraries and pools were closed earlier in March in reaction to directions from Manitoba Health officials.

Many city services are closed, but the 311 service is still operating, Shaw said. City park permits for large gatherings of more than 50 people have been cancelled.

Nothing is off the table.- Jason Shaw, City of Winnipeg manager of emergency operations

Play structures are not cleaned or disinfected, Shaw said, but city parks and plays structures are not being closed at this point.

"We recognize the importance of needing to balance social distancing with the positive mental health and well-being aspects of being able to get outside," he said.

"We encourage people to go outside and use social distancing."

Shaw reminded people to follow the provincial public health officials guidance on self-isolating after travel.

The Manitoba government's declaration of a state of emergency helps move along its public health orders, he said, but a municipal state of emergency would only be required if "we felt like there were additional powers underneath that directive."

Shaw said the province has not asked the city to begin enforcing public health orders under the Emergency Measures Act, which is the province's responsibility.

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Transit buses will continue running, with new electronic signs and stickers reminding the public to keep a safe social distance.

In response to a request from the union that represents the city's transit operators, Shaw said the city is not planning to allow transit riders to enter through the back door of buses.

The Amalgamated Transit Union 1505 has called on the city to immediately implement a rear-boarding policy — which would require riders to board the bus from the back door — and to suspend fare collection to minimize contact between drivers and passengers.

Winnipeg Transit buses are displaying new messages to remind the public to practise social distancing while riding the bus. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

Several other Canadian cities, including Montreal, Saskatoon and Calgary, have started using rear-door transit entry during the pandemic.

"We're tired of watching other cities act while Winnipeg Transit is still considering their options," ATU vice-president James Van Gerwen said in a letter to the city. "The best time for Transit to act on this was last week. The second best time is right now."​​​

"Nothing is off the table," said Shaw, "but at this point right now, rear loading on buses has not been something deemed as necessary." Fares are still being collected at the front of the bus, as usual.

Protective shields for transit drivers were put up long before the COVID-19 outbreak for the safety of the operators, he noted. While not every bus has a shield yet, only those with the protective shields installed are on the roads right now, he said.

When asked about the news that Winnipeg-based bus manufacturer NFI is laying off permanent and part-time workers, Bowman said COVID-19 is "having a horrible impact on our business community.

That's why, he said, city council is looking at what it can do to provide relief in addition to the federal government's previously announced $82-billion relief package.

Buses are still on the roads, although fewer people are venturing out on Winnipeg streets due to self-isolating and social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"Those are my two priorities right now … our most vulnerable citizens in our community as well as businesses who we know are hurting and are having real liquidity concerns," Bowman said.

He gave no timeline for when businesses can expect the burden to ease.

"What I can say is that our staff were working through the weekend. The direction was provided by council to them on Friday, and so we're in Day 2 of the week, and I can tell you they are absolutely prioritizing," he said.

Bowman also announced a new COVID-19 business task force on Tuesday, which will focus on the impacts of the pandemic on businesses in Winnipeg.

Leaders from small, medium and large businesses, along with members of Economic Development Winnipeg and Coun. John Orlikow, chair of the city's economic development committee, make up the working group.

Among other things, the task force is weighing a motion put forward last week by finance chair Scott Gillingham and the mayor on property and business taxes.

The motion asks the public service to review the possibility of a tax deferral due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With files from Bartley Kives and Sean Kavanagh

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