Shop with caution as Manitoba's pandemic rules relax, epidemiologist warns
As of Saturday, all stores across Manitoba, except for north, can reopen at limited capacity
As Manitoba relaxes some COVID-19 restrictions, a Winnipeg epidemiologist is advising people to stay away from busy shopping centres and stores.
"Calculate in your mind: would I be in this line for more than 15 minutes? And if the answer is yes, please just go home," said Cynthia Carr, the founder of EPI Research.
The province announced Thursday some of its public health restrictions would be eased starting Saturday, following a partial provincewide lockdown that extended for more than two months.
That lockdown included a ban on the sale of non-essential items in-store. Non-essential businesses were required to close to in-person shopping, and were allowed only to offer delivery or pickup options.
The revised rules for shopping say all stores can open, and all items can be sold in-store. However, stores must follow physical distancing guidelines and occupancy limits of 25 per cent or a maximum of 250 people, whichever is lower.
Barber shops and hair salons can also reopen with safety measures in place.
Restrictions have not relaxed for people living in the northern Manitoba, which is still seeing a high COVID-19 case rate.
Carr said while staff may work to ensure they're controlling the number of people within a store or at a shopping centre, what's happening outside could still put people at risk.
"You're standing still in a lineup [outside] with many other people, because the store is trying to manage their occupancy," she said.
"For some reason people have this false sense of safety that if they haven't walked into the store they're not at risk, but you're actually at more risk because you're standing in a choke point."
Carr said people should think about avoiding lineups outside too.
"The virus likes colder, drier weather," she said. "We don't know if that might have an impact on how long the aerosolized virus, or particles, stay in the air, and if you could be at more risk outdoors in this colder drier air."
Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba's acting deputy chief public health officer, said Friday said that shopping in retail stores is a low-risk activity for transmitting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, because people are typically getting what they need and then leaving, without interacting with a lot of other people.
"There is some risk there.…We're not saying it's zero risk," said Atwal. "It will be about the behaviours of Manitobans. It will be about the behaviours of these businesses as well."
Atwal said enforcement personnel will be out to ensure businesses are following the public health orders, adding retailers need to have a system in place to verify occupancy limits.
The new public health measures will be in place for at least three weeks.
Other changes include permitting people to have two designated visitors inside their home, allowing people to host up to five guests outside on their property, and increasing the increasing the number of people allowed at a funeral to 10, plus the officiant.
WATCH | Manitoba relaxes some COVID-19 restrictions:
Manitoba reported 173 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including 64 in the Northern Health Region. Winnipeg's five-day test positivity rate dropped to 6.2 per cent, which is lowest it has been since October. The province's five-day test positivity rate was 9.3 per cent.
With files from Aidan Geary