Early school start, pool and gym reopening possible in Manitoba's Phase 2 but no date yet
Professional sports will be allowed to resume some training activities Friday
An early start to the school year, access to pools and gyms, and limited travel to Manitoba's north are among a swath of measures proposed for the next phase of the province's reopening, Premier Brian Pallister announced Thursday, but there's no firm date yet for when that next phase will begin.
The province's new draft plan for Phase 2 of reopening proposes rolling back a wide range of restrictions, including reopening bars, indoor restaurant spaces and community centres at a limited capacity.
Reopening for tattoo parlours, tanning facilities and estheticians is also on the table.
Provincial planning documents released last month targeted a Phase 2 start date no earlier than June 1, but public health officials have hinted recently it could happen earlier.
Further details on the timing of other measures will be announced "at some point in the next few days," Pallister said Thursday.
"Early and decisive actions, along with the hard work of Manitobans, have made a difference in our fight against COVID-19," he said.
"There is no room for complacency. We do not want a COVID comeback."
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The draft plan revealed Thursday proposes a much broader range of measures than originally announced in the multi-stage plan unveiled at the end of April.
The original version proposed reopening manicurist and pedicurist services, film production, non-contact children's sports, and indoor restaurant spaces at limited capacity. All of those changes are still slated to be part of Phase 2.
On top of adding more businesses to the reopening list, the revised plan also proposes starting the 2020-21 school year early, on Aug. 31.
The plan would repurpose some non-instructional days during the school year, the premier said, to help students transition after in-person classes were suspended this spring.
Other measures on the table include increasing child-care and day camp group sizes to a maximum of 24 children, resuming sports activities for children and adults and allowing direct travel to northern parks, campgrounds, cabins, lodges and resorts while ensuring physical distancing.
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Some restrictions are already set to be loosened before June. On Friday, professional sports will be allowed to resume some training activities, the premier said, and work continues on allowing outdoor visits to long-term care homes.
Increases to public gathering size limits announced Wednesday will also take effect Friday, raising the maximum size to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. The current gathering limit is 10.
According to the draft plan, mass gatherings like concerts, festivals and major sporting events won't be considered before September 2020.
No new cases Thursday
Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said Thursday he hopes to give businesses more notice ahead of Phase 2 than was provided before Phase 1. The first phase was announced five days before a wide swath of reopenings took effect on May 4.
But he said public health officials must strike a difficult balance between wanting to get information out early and maintaining the flexibility to change plans depending on case numbers.
"Even today, to give a solid, definite date, you know, we could be ... in a position next week that we'd have to change that date. And that could have serious implications on people who have put in a lot of plans to open on a certain date," Roussin said.
"We don't want to ... extend the restrictions longer than we have to, but we want to be in the position that we can give a definite date that people could rely on."
On Thursday, Roussin said public health officials will be watching overall trends in certain key metrics — such as the percentage of tests that come back positive, the number of cases that can't be linked to known transmission chains and hospital admissions — in order to make their final decision about timing.
He announced no new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon. The total number of cases in the province is 290, with 18 active cases, 265 people listed as recovered and seven deaths. One person is in hospital and no one is in intensive care.
Manitoba has had one new case of COVID-19 in the past week.
Roussin said it's still early in Phase 1, with only one two-week incubation period since that step in reopening. He's previously said officials typically need two incubation periods of data to evaluate policy changes.
On Thursday, he again cautioned Manitobans that Phase 2 of reopening is not a return to normal.
"We continue to review our data quite closely as we loosen restrictions and we'll make changes accordingly," he said.
"This virus is still in Manitoba, and if we don't take the cautions that we've already been taking, we could see increasing numbers going forward."
A total of 582 tests were completed Wednesday, Roussin said, bringing the number of tests done in the province since early February to 36,402.
Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer of Shared Health, said the health-care system is in the process of restarting more surgeries and diagnostic procedures.
"We know that COVID is going to be with us for longer term, and postponing care for our patients is not something that we can continue indefinitely," she said.
Surgeries, which dropped to about one-third of pre-pandemic levels earlier, rose to about two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels over the past week, Siragusa said.
Diagnostic imaging is operating at about 76 per cent of its baseline after dropping to about 45 per cent in the early weeks of the pandemic, she said. Lab tests are also up to about 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels after dipping to around 50 per cent in early April.
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