Manitoba's code red restrictions don't include top doc's vow to limit social gatherings to 1 household

Manitoba is not restricting social gatherings to a single household when red restrictions take effect on Thursday, contrary to statements made by the chief provincial public health officer.

Roussin suggests rule would have been unenforceable, so maximum gathering size will stay at 5

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said the public health orders can only go so far, legally. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba is not restricting social gatherings to a single household when red restrictions take effect on Thursday, contrary to statements made by the chief provincial public health officer.

The province's newest public health order sets the maximum indoor and outdoor gathering size at five people, everywhere in Manitoba, starting at a minute after midnight on Thursday.

"All persons are prohibited from assembling in a gathering of more than five persons at any indoor or outdoor place or premises," reads the order.

"For certainty, this provision applies to ceremonies such as weddings and funerals as well as informal gatherings such as dinners and house parties."

The five-person limit does not include people who reside in a household.

This means there will be no change to the maximum allowable gathering size when the entire province is elevated to red on the pandemic response system at 12:01 a.m.

Earlier this week, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said new restrictions would include no gatherings outside the household.

"The following restrictions will come into effect on Thursday for all of Manitoba: There'll be no social gatherings permitted. Social contact is reduced to members of your household," Roussin said during a press briefing on Tuesday morning.

A background document included in a provincial news release also characterized the household-only rule as a restriction.

"The new critical (red) level restrictions will be in effect provincewide and include: Social contacts reduced to your household only," the document stated. "Social gatherings are not permitted." 

The household-only measure would have been the toughest restriction among a series of new rules.

They also include the closure of non-essential retail stores, gyms, places of worship, theatres, hair salons and recreational centres. Film and TV production was supposed to cease — although another change in the public order allows it to continue if shooting started before 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Essential retailers, such as grocers and pharmacies, may remain open at 25 per cent customer capacity. Restaurants may only serve delivery and takeout customers. Dental clinics and other therapeutic businesses may remain open, along with schools and child-care services.

Late on Wednesday, Roussin suggested the province has no legal means of enforcing household-only socialization.

"The public health orders provide the foundation for the measures needed to get our case numbers under control, but they can only go so far as a legal document," he said in a statement.

"What we need Manitobans to do is to follow both the letter and the spirit of these new restrictions, and that is to stay home whenever possible, and not to socialize with people outside their household. 

"Our public health orders are an important tool but, ultimately, it is the actions of each and every Manitoban that will get this virus back under control."

Second reversal since Oct. 19

In a series of tweets on Wednesday evening, Roussin urged Manitobans to stay home and not to socialize outside of their household, even if it's technically permitted.

"Manitobans don't need a law to do what is right — restrict your social interactions to your household. Not because you'll be fined, but because it's the right thing to do to fight #Covid19MB," he wrote.

In a followup tweet, he added, "We don't have time to waste on semantics and legal loopholes."

This is the second time in just over three weeks a restriction announced by Dr. Roussin did not appear in one of his orders.

On Oct. 19, the province reversed a decision to require beverage rooms to close as part of an earlier public health order.

In that instance, the province heeded concerns expressed by the Manitoba Hotel Association about the unequal application of the order.

On Oct. 19, the province reversed a plan to close beverage rooms. They ended up closing weeks later when tougher restrictions were brought in. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Roussin hinted Tuesday his initial characterization of household-only socialization as a restriction was erroneous.

In a second press briefing in the afternoon, he referred to household-only gathering as a recommendation.

"The suggestion is socialize only within your household contacts," he said.

The restrictions that take effect Thursday are intended to serve as what Roussin described as a "circuit breaker" — sharp new measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Daily case counts in the hundreds have led to a record number of COVID-19 patients in Manitoba hospitals and a sharp rise in pandemic deaths.

The strain on the health-care system led to Roussin's decision to force Manitoba into a shutdown that will be in place at least two weeks.

"We are truly at a crossroads in our fight against this pandemic," he said on Tuesday, when he and Premier Brian Pallister made the announcement.

"We need to turn these numbers around, and we need to turn them around now."

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Wednesday evening the no-gatherings rule should be reinstated.

He also called on government to explain the change.

"The same day that nine Manitobans succumbed to COVID 19, and only hours before important new lockdown measures were set to come into effect, Manitobans have learned with no warning these restrictions have been weakened and watered down," Kinew said in a statement.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.