Manitoba

Niverville mayor fights back, wants community exempt from new COVID-19 restrictions

The mayor of Niverville, Man., is insulted his community will face increased COVID-19 restrictions and is calling for an exemption, because its vaccination rate is above the provincial average.

Myron Dyck calls for meeting with Dr. Brent Roussin to discuss sparing town's businesses from clampdown

Some COVID-19 restrictions will increase in Manitoba on Tuesday, with a new retail capacity limit in the Southern Health region. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The mayor of Niverville, Man., is insulted his community will face increased COVID-19 restrictions and is calling for an exemption, because its vaccination rate is above the provincial average.

Myron Dyck said he doesn't take issue with the need for more strict rules in the province where case numbers are creeping back up, but he does not like how it's being regionalized and leaving Niverville lumped in with communities with low vaccination rates. 

"I say that this has been a bit of an overreach and I'm hoping that Dr. Roussin will see that, and we can meet and that this can be corrected," he said.

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin on Friday announced new rules that target the unvaccinated by curtailing gatherings if they include people who are eligible to be vaccinated but have not been.

While those rules are provincewide, the new restrictions also come with a specific limitation for the Southern Health region, which contains the communities in Manitoba with the lowest vaccination rates and consequently, a disproportionate share of the growing caseload.

Businesses in the Southern Health region must reduce their capacity to 50 per cent as of Tuesday, as Manitoba moves into the restricted orange level of its pandemic response system.

When Roussin revealed the new orders, he said they amount to "a very significant lockdown on the unvaccinated" to prevent the health-care system from once more becoming overwhelmed.

Dyck's frustration with the crackdown in the south is that his community has done everything asked of it and, as of Monday, had 82.1 per cent of its residents double vaccinated.

That's slightly higher than the provincial average of 81.1.

Despite Niverville's efforts, the overall vaccination rate in the Southern Health region is 66.1 per cent, dragged down by rates of 24.2 in the rural municipality of Stanley, 41.8 in Winkler and 50-70 per cent in several other communities.

Dyck reached out to Roussin after Friday's announcement of the new orders to request a meeting and ask that Niverville be excluded from the latest rules. Specifically, he wants the 50 per cent retail restriction dropped for Niverville.

Not only does that financially hurt businesses that have done their part, it is a hardship to staff who are constantly being laid off and rehired whenever the province shuffles the health orders, he said.

Those employees have been on the front lines during the pandemic, facing vitriol from people who refuse to wear masks or follow the rules. At some point, those employees will simply give up and stop coming back, Dyck said.

"They're doing their part … and we're among the leaders in vaccination rates in the province, [but] we're told it just doesn't matter, you're just going to get lumped in anyway [with those other communities]," Dyck said.

"So their morale has taken a huge hit."

Niverville, about 20 kilometres south of Winnipeg's Perimeter Highway, is a bedroom community of the city, which is the Manitoba health region with the highest vaccine uptake at 87.7 per cent. Dyck would like to see his town treated with the same consideration as Winnipeg.

At one time during the pandemic, Winnipeg's caseload was higher than the rural areas and had greater restrictions placed on it. At that time, Niverville was considered part of what was called capital region, so it was also hit with the restrictions, Dyck said.

So why is it being pushed away now, he asked.

"It's like, no, no, you're not part of us anymore."

During a news conference on Monday, Roussin was asked why the restrictions, obviously directed at low-uptake areas, need to include all of Southern Health.

He said it is far more difficult to put in targeted restrictions for smaller areas because people will just avoid them by going to the next closest place, where the restrictions don't apply. It needs to blanket a region to be more effective, he said.

If it's truly about discouraging travel, that still doesn't explain why Niverville needs to be under the blanket, Dyck said.

The town's main trading area includes the communities of St-Pierre-Jolys, Ste. Agathe, St. Adolphe and Ile des Chênes — all areas with higher vaccination uptake, he said.

"I daresay that those … Dr. Roussin is concerned about, you will see them in Winnipeg more than you will see them in Niverville," Dyck said, because people go to province's largest city for big box shopping at Costco and other stores not available elsewhere.

'Vaccine defiant'

Brandon Burley, the mayor of Morden, which is surrounded by the RM of Stanley, took to Twitter in the wake of Friday's announcement by Roussin to state his indignation with those who remain unvaccinated.

"We need to stop calling anti-vaxxers 'vaccine hesitant.' That language gives them a fence to sit on. They are 'vaccine defiant,'" he wrote.

Burley also said he expected the new orders to be much tougher, and called on the province to provide more enforcement to ensure the new rules are followed.

"Otherwise, the orders are worthless."

Burley's town, which is just 10 kilometres from Winkler, has a vaccination rate of 69.7 per cent, on the higher end for that part of the province.

"Nothing could be more detached from reality than expecting [the] unvaxxed in this region to adhere to the new public restrictions on their own," he wrote.

"Until the province sends help on enforcement, restrictions will make no difference, except to hurt those who were already doing their best."

Asked Monday if enforcement would increase, Roussin said that is a question for Manitoba Justice.

He also was asked by reporters what makes him think people who have not been adhering to restrictions to this point will comply with the new orders.

"It's a concern," Roussin said. "We need people to adhere to them or we're going to see these numbers increase. Throughout this entire pandemic, there's always a significant reliance on Manitobans to step up and do the right thing."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent. Story idea? Email: darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca

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