Manitoba to allow 2 visitors in homes starting Saturday for all but northern region
Loosened rules will allow stores with occupancy limits to sell non-essential items
After more than two months of strict lockdown, many Manitobans will be free to invite two designated visitors into their homes starting Saturday, the province announced Thursday.
The looser rules do not apply to the northern part of Manitoba, where case numbers continue to rise.
Starting Saturday, residents outside that region will be allowed to have two additional people — family or friends — visit their household, under what provincial officials are calling "the rule of two," and stores may begin selling non-essential goods again.
"These are cautious changes," Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday.
"Today is a day of hope. It's a day of optimism because unlike virtually every other jurisdiction in North America, Manitobans have actually, successfully bent the COVID curve."
For more than two months, the province has implemented its tightest restrictions since the pandemic began, banning virtually all household visitors and forbidding stores from selling items deemed non-essential.
WATCH | 'We don't want to have a COVID come back,' Pallister says
The new rules will be in place for at least three weeks. They will allow people to have up to five visitors in their yards in addition to members of their household.
The province will also eliminate its essential items list, which forced stores to block customers from buying items like toys, books and magazines that were deemed non-essential. Instead, stores will be able to sell their full range of products as long as physical distancing and occupancy limits are in place.
Stores must enforce occupancy limits of 25 per cent or a maximum of 250 people, whichever is lower.
Barber shops, hairstylists and non-regulated health services like pedorthists and reflexologists may also reopen, as long as COVID protocols are in place and information is collected for contact tracing purposes.
Funerals will be allowed to have up to 10 people, plus the officiant, with COVID-19 protocols in place.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, stressed that under the change to household visits, each household will be permitted to designate a specific two individuals — not a rotating list of visitors — who can visit indoors.
He advised the two people chosen as visitors in one household should designate the one or two people in that household as their visitors, to encourage a "bubble-type format" and limit close contacts.
"This has to be a gradual and cautious process. We do not want to be opening, and then closing, and then reopening again," he said. "Everyone's aware of the challenges that these restrictions have caused Manitobans. But we just cannot overwhelm our health-care system."
Manitoba's current public health orders are set to expire on Friday at 11:59 p.m.
In recent weeks, COVID-19 case numbers have trended downward in the province as a whole. However, northern Manitoba has seen a spike in COVID-19 case numbers. On Thursday, more than half — 105 — of the nearly 200 new cases announced in the province were in the Northern Health Region.
"Right now in the northern region, there certainly are concerning outbreaks in specific remote communities, but that's not it. There are cases that are dispersed throughout the northern region," Roussin said.
"This iteration [of orders], it's our first return to a more regionalized approach to our public health orders for quite some time, and so we are providing some more of that targeting that we tried to do early on in the fall."
The new relaxed rules apply in the province's other four health regions: the Winnipeg health region — except for the northern town of Churchill, which is technically part of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority — as well as the Southern, Interlake–Eastern and Prairie Mountain health regions.
Not included in the loosened rules are reopenings for restaurants, bars, fitness centres or gyms, all of which must remain closed to in-person services.
Roussin said he wouldn't speculate on what businesses might be allowed to reopen in the future stages of reopening.
WATCH | Frustrations understandable, Roussin says
Roussin said he understands frustrations from some business owners in those industries and others, and said continued closures are not a "punishment."
"It's not a reflection on the efforts of those people," he said. "It's a reflection on the virus."
Roussin said he wouldn't speculate on what businesses may be allowed to reopen in future stages of reopening.
He urged Manitobans to continue following public health orders and advice, including frequent hand-washing, staying home when sick and physical distancing.
"If we continue to focus on … those fundamentals, then these sacrifices will pay off in the short-term."
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 for Thursday: