Manitobans must serve '90 days of duty' despite start of COVID-19 vaccinations: Pallister
Premier says Manitobans must adhere to public health rules until vaccine is available to general public
Premier Brian Pallister is warning Manitobans that a COVID-19 vaccine does not mean they can slack off on following public health orders.
Some health-care workers started getting their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week. But Pallister notes that the province is still months away before the general public can be immunized and herd immunity sets in.
"As we get more vaccines and more and more people get immunized, there's a danger that people will relax," Pallister said Tuesday during a news conference about financial support for dine-in restaurants.
Pallister is hearing from colleagues that residents are talking about no longer wearing masks — or hosting a party — once they receive the vaccine, he said.
"This is not on. We can't relax," he said, citing that research has yet to prove how long the vaccine is effective, and whether the novel coronavirus — which causes COVID-19 — can be transmitted post-immunization.
Several times during Tuesday's news conference, Pallister referenced "90 days of duty" that Manitobans must serve.
The 90 days — or three months — is "arbitrary," he said, but it's a realistic target before the COVID-19 vaccine could be made available to the general population of Manitoba. So until then, Manitobans must continue following public health rules.
Manitoba is supposed to receive 228,000 total doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by Mar. 31, 2021, according to a news release issued on Dec. 9. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses taken 21 days apart, so that's enough for 114,000 Manitobans to be vaccinated by April 2021.
Manitoba's priority populations to receive the vaccine first are health-care workers dealing directly with COVID-19 patients, residents of care homes and long-term care facilities, people at least 80 years old, and adults at risk in remote or isolated Indigenous communities.
Manitoba will receive 9,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine, if and when it's approved by Health Canada. The federal government promised that Indigenous people will be first in line for that vaccine.
WATCH | 'Don't relax,' Pallister warns:
Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba's acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, echoed the premier's sentiment.
"Manitobans come together. They are doing what they need to do. They did it before. They're doing it again right now," said Atwal.
"We need to continue to [follow public health orders] to make sure that next year starts off right, and we're able to manage the rest of winter and the springtime."
Heading in the right direction
Public health officials announced 155 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, which continues a downward trend in new cases per day in Manitoba. There are now 4,382 known active cases in the province.
But 18 more Manitobans have also died from the illness Tuesday, pushing the total number of COVID-19 deaths to 590.
All of Manitoba has been under red level, or critical, restrictions as of 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 12. Those restrictions will be in place until at least Jan. 8, when they will be reviewed by Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
The lowering number of new cases is heading in the right direction, Atwal said — though he stopped short of saying whether restrictions would loosen in a couple of weeks.
"We don't want restrictions on," Atwal said. "We loosen restrictions, people adhere for a while and then all of a sudden the numbers start to really increase because there is sort of that non-adherence that comes with certain individuals, et cetera.
"I'm not here to guess at the future. What I'm here to say is we need people to stay at home. We need people not to interact."
The health-care system is still strained from the 275 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 36 in critical care, Atwal added. So until those figures start decreasing, it's hard to loosen public health rules.
With files from Bartley Kives