Household bubbles allowed, most businesses can reopen in Manitoba on Friday

Manitobans can now choose to designate one other household to form a pandemic bubble and all businesses — except indoor theatres, concert halls, casinos and bingo halls — can reopen when new public health orders come into effect Friday.

Outdoor gathering sizes increased to 10, fitness classes will be able to resume at 25% capacity

Manitoba's latest COVID-19 health rules announced Tuesday will allow nearly all businesses to reopen on Friday. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Manitobans can now choose to designate one other household to form a pandemic bubble, and businesses — except indoor theatres, concert halls, casinos and bingo halls — can reopen when new public health orders come into effect Friday.

Indoor recreation facilities such as gyms, pools and fitness centres will be able to operate at 25 per cent capacity with physical distancing measures in place for spectators, locker rooms and common areas.

The province had considered eliminating rules requiring masks for people in recreation facilities while exercising, but decided to keep it in place for this round of the health orders, said Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

The new orders, which Roussin unveiled during a news conference on Tuesday, will remain in effect until March 25. The government has posted the rules on its website

"We  shouldn't interpret these reopenings as a reduction in our risk," Roussin said, stressing the need to keep case numbers down, as more easily transmissible variants of the virus pose a threat to the health system.

Restaurants at 50%

Under the rules for household bubbles, all members of both households must agree to only visit each other.

Manitobans can either choose the household bubble option, or can instead continue to designate up to two people to come to their home.

Among the other changes, the limit on outdoor gathering sizes has doubled to 10 people.

Restaurants can operate at 50 per cent capacity, but the rule limiting seating to household members only remains in place.

If restaurants were allowed to seat more than one household together, there would be no way for them to avoid seating multiple households together, Roussin said.

"We know that Manitobans want to get out with other people at these restaurants. We just can't have people from different households, multiple households sitting at the same table for prolonged periods of time."

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Gyms and fitness centres will be able to offer group classes, as a restriction limiting them to one-on-one training has been removed.

While some group-based fitness businesses like cycle rooms will benefit from the lifting of that restriction, the capacity of 25 per cent limits what other small gyms and fitness centres can offer in terms of classes, said Dino Camire, owner of one family fitness centre and head of the Manitoba Coalition of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada.

"That doesn't change much for a business model like mine. With the addition of classes, we just can't run classes," he  said. 

That could change, if the province raised capacity.

"If they're considering that it's safe enough to go maskless, we propose that it's safe enough to increase occupancy with the continuation of mask use," Camire said.

Other businesses can also operate at 50 per cent capacity, up to a maximum of 250 people.

Dino Camire of One Family Fitness in Winnipeg wears a mask in a workout room on Tuesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Places of worship can reopen at 25 per cent capacity, up to a maximum of 100 people.

Arcades, go-kart tracks, day camps for children and children's facilities can also open at 25 per cent capacity.  Dance, theatre and music facilities can open for individual instruction and group classes at 25 a maximum per cent capacity.

Professional theatre, dance, symphony and opera companies can resume rehearsals, as long as they are not open to the public.

Concerns about variants

As Manitoba relaxes its public health restrictions, some variants continue to worry public health officials. On Tuesday, the province announced the first cases of the variant first identified in South Africa.

The province also announced one more case of the variant originally found in the United Kingdom. 

"It's difficult to predict what the effects of these orders will have, because it all depends on the actions of Manitobans," Roussin said, adding that the presence of variants in the province increases the importance of following public health guidance around wearing masks, physical distancing and staying home when sick.

"But moving forward, if we continue on our trend, we see continued numbers going down," Roussin said.

Upcoming holidays also pose a potential risk. Premier Brian Pallister warned that Manitoba could see another spike like the one after Thanksgiving, if Manitobans don't follow the rules.

"We have to remember Easter's coming, and Spring Break, Passover. These are traditionally times when we like to get together. We're going to have to remember the lessons of last fall as we move forward into the next few weeks," he said.

The changes come after the Manitoba government announced last week that it was considering a broad swath of relaxed COVID-19 rules.

Members of the public were invited to offer their feedback on the proposed changes.

Officials began loosening some restrictions to allow for a "slow reopening" of some businesses on Jan. 23 after Manitobans spent months in near lockdown. At first, the changes applied to all areas but the north. On Feb. 12, restrictions were relaxed further, this time with northern Manitoba included.

Despite those relaxed rules, daily COVID-19 case counts have continued to fall across the province. On Monday, Manitoba posted its lowest daily case count since Oct. 7.

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