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Pallister plan points to potential fourth wave



The most alarming part of the Manitoba government’s reopening road map is not that it’s so vague that it’s virtually meaningless. It’s the fear that government will ignore the science again and send us into a fourth wave.

The so-called “4-3-2-One Great Summer Reopening Plan” released by Premier Brian Pallister Thursday falls well short of detailed planning documents released in other provinces, many of which are based on reaching certain vaccination targets.

To some extent, there’s a good reason for that: Manitoba has far higher COVID-19 case counts than other provinces. Officials here can’t predict when they will ease restrictions based on vaccine take-up alone, not when hospitals are still overflowing with acutely ill patients.

Still, there should have been more detail in this plan.



MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister announces the summer reopening plan at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Thursday.

The province says capacity for businesses, services and facilities will be loosened based on reaching certain vaccine benchmarks. However, there will be “restrictions for some sectors” during the first phase, planned for July 1. For the second phase, set to begin Aug. 2, there will be “fewer restrictions for specific sectors.” By Labour Day, all services, facilities and businesses will reopen “with limited restrictions in some cases.”

It doesn’t say which sectors will open or when, nor what restrictions will be in place. In other words, it doesn’t really say anything.

Very little will, or should, reopen until infection rates fall substantially and hospitals stabilize, regardless of vaccination rates.

It doesn’t say which sectors will open or when, nor what restrictions will be in place. In other words, it doesn’t really say anything.

The plan alludes to that: “These decisions will be based on progress towards the twin goals of more vaccinations and less COVID-19 in our communities and hospitals.”

But that part of the messaging should have been more pronounced.


Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, outlines the details of the summer reopening plan, Thursday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, outlines the details of the summer reopening plan, Thursday.

Public health officials consider many epidemiological factors when deciding when and how to lift restrictions. There is no single metric, like case counts, that drive it. However, the reopening plan should have provided the public with an idea of where cases, the test-positivity rate and hospitalizations should be before restrictions are substantially eased. Without it, Manitobans are left in the dark about government’s intentions.

Absent a clear and well-communicated commitment to a science-based reopening, decisions around restrictions are left to the whim of government. The last time that happened, the results were catastrophic.

Absent a clear and well–communicated commitment to a science–based reopening, decisions around restrictions are left to the whim of government. The last time that happened, the results were catastrophic.

Despite strong evidence from neighbouring provinces in April that more contagious strains of the virus were causing severe illness among younger adults (and driving up hospitalizations), the Pallister government ignored expert advice and refused to bring in stricter measures. Manitoba is still suffering the consequences of that, including six COVID-19 deaths announced Thursday (and the highest death rate in the country for the past three weeks).

If the Pallister government ignored the science in April, what’s stopping it from doing so this summer?

If there’s one thing Manitobans learned about their provincial government during this pandemic it’s that effective planning is not its strong suit. The Pallister government failed to plan for the second wave, including leaving personal care homes vulnerable and underfunding testing and contact tracing. The province had to be lobbied repeatedly to bring in effective measures to reduce rising case counts (and only did so once infection rates reached record levels). The result: Manitoba suffered the highest COVID-19 death rate in the country during the second wave.

When faced with similar circumstances during the third wave, the province gambled that enough people would be vaccinated to avoid soaring hospitalizations and rising death counts. They lost that bet.

The question now is, will the province follow the science and reopen based on sound epidemiological criteria? Or will the sports-minded and ultra-competitive Brian Pallister run roughshod over public health policy and try to catch up with the reopening timelines of other provinces?

If the premier chooses the latter, Manitoba could be in for a fourth wave.

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

   Read full biography


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