Manitoba

Manitoba premier doesn't want to 'scare the hell out of everybody' with COVID-19 death projections

Premier Brian Pallister is keeping worst case scenario forecasts for Manitoba a secret for now, citing disadvantages to the kind of potential death toll projections released by Ontario.

Brian Pallister notes disadvantages to releasing worst case scenario estimates, like those from Ontario

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said he wouldn't be release COVID-19 spread and death projections for the province Friday, though he suggested his government would be sharing some estimates next week. (CBC)

Premier Brian Pallister is keeping worst case scenario forecasts for Manitoba a secret for now, citing disadvantages to the kind of potential death toll projections released by Ontario.

"I am not interested in trying to scare the hell out of everybody in the province just so some people pay attention," he said.

The premier was asked Friday if and when his government plans to release estimates for how many Manitobans could die as part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The question came hours after the Ontario government released its own projections: somewhere between 3,000 and 15,000 people in the province could die over the course of the pandemic.

Pallister pointed to the gulf that separates those projections on the low and high end as a sign that they may not be helpful to share widely.

'Well there's a tremendous desire for people to know the end of this story, right? The challenge is none of us do," he said.

"Making accurate predictions on something that is totally unprecedented is an incredibly difficult thing. There are disadvantages to putting out numbers which may, frankly, be totally inaccurate."

WATCH | Pallister explains reluctance to share projections:

Brian Pallister said Friday he wouldn't share worst-case-scenario predictions, though he said the province may release some estimates next week. 0:41

Last week, CBC News reported internal projections from the Saskatchewan government that pit the potential deaths there at between 9,000 and 15,000.

Calls are also mounting in Ottawa for the federal government to release national projections.

Several provinces are further along in the spreading stage of the novel coronvarius than Manitoba.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer for Manitoba, noted that Ontario and Manitoba's first cases were at the end of January and March 12, respectively. 

"We are behind them in our epidemic curve," he said. "We'll work on that and release that when it's available because it's important for planning."

The chief nursing officer for Shared Health also noted the fluid nature and early stage in the spread in Manitoba make projections challenging. 

"It's ever evolving," said Lanette Siragusa.

There have been 204 cases in the province between March 10 and April 6, public health officials say. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

As the trends change officials may get a better sense of what's to come, she said.

Pallister suggested the province will release some projections next week.

"But I would hope all Manitobans understand, this is guesswork," he said.

"The real work is being done on the front lines of our health-care system right now, and it's being done in the homes of people in Manitoba who are washing their hands."

Pallister isn't necessarily on the same page as other provinces on the timing of releasing predictions, though he said every premier in Canada supports another idea he floated last week.

He called on the federal government to establish an emergency credit agency. The federal government can borrow at a far lower rate than provinces, he said. 

As of Friday, Manitoba has two deaths and 15 new cases, for a total of 182 cases.


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Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister on the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic: April 3 46:50

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Bryce Hoye

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Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

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