‘Cautiously excited’: Manitoba’s reopening strategy getting mixed reviews

By | April 30, 2020

WINNIPEG — Manitobans who’ve been living in lockdown for more than a month will soon have the option of gathering with friends or family on a restaurant patio – even if they don’t live together.

It’s part of the province’s COVID-19 reopening strategy, a gradual lifting of pandemic-related restrictions aimed at restoring some services to kickstart the economy while continuing to try and prevent the spread of the virus.

It’s a plan that’s getting some mixed reviews about what will be acceptable and what’s not.

Outside the King’s Head Pub, workers installed fencing to prepare the business for phase one of the province’s strategy.

Owner Christopher Graves and company have been hard at work preparing for what he expects to be a busy Monday. May 4 is the day restaurants can reopen patios to 50 per cent of their normal capacity.

“Cautiously excited,” said Graves. “We’ve been waiting for this awhile. We didn’t realize that it was going to happen so quickly.”

It’s one of several city establishments getting ready to serve socially-starved Manitobans, but with physical distancing recommendations still in place some people are taking a wait-and-see approach.

SOME PLAN TO WAIT AND SEE

“I’m not sure I’ll be going out to the patio,” said Danny Palace, while enjoying an outside lunch with family in Old Market Square. “I’ll probably give it a few more weeks before I go out there.”

The golf pro left Windsor, Ont. to spend the pandemic in lockdown with his mom and brother in Winnipeg. Even though he’s now living in the same city as his girlfriend, the two have been separated for more than a month due to physical distancing.

“We’ve been doing visits on the driveway and kind of car-to-car stuff but haven’t gotten together yet,” he explained.

“I grab my lawn chair, I go on the end of the driveway, take a seat and she sits in her backyard and we kind of yell back and forth to each other. Little frustrating, little different, but I think we’re both making the best of a bad situation.”

Efforts such as theirs are part of the reason public health officials have decided to loosen some COVID-19 restrictions, which has created some confusion about exactly what it all means.

“Definitely things like going to see her and getting out on the golf course are things that I’ll be doing,” said Palace.

MANITOBANS STILL ASKED TO AVOID OUTINGS

However, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said people are still being advised, not forced, to stay home as much as possible and avoid visiting family and friends outside of their household.

“It’s a lifting of restrictions so it’s not necessarily a changing of our advice,” said Roussin.

“This virus is still circulating and so there was never a restriction that could prevent people from going to visit family members. It’s just Manitobans knew the importance of trying to stay home as much as they can. They knew that depending on how much contact you may have had, then having close contact with others could put them at risk.”

Leaving some, like Barbara Kirk of Miami, Man., wondering why certain things are allowed and others aren’t – her mom is in in palliative care and her dad can’t visit. 

“If we can go out to sit on a patio and have a drink with our friends, I don’t understand why my father can’t see his wife of 61 years,” she said.

Kirk said she does understand hospital visits remain suspended in part to protect vulnerable people, but it doesn’t make the situation any easier for her family.

PATIOS ALLOWED TO OPEN MAY 4

Roussin said places like patios are allowed to partially open while some other activities still aren’t either allowed or advised because of the risk level.

“In places like restaurants on patios, we know the transmission of this virus is much less likely in outdoor places,” said Roussin.

“We have that 50 per cent occupancy rule so social distancing will be in place. And so Manitobans… they’re aware of this and our numbers, our numbers have demonstrated the precautions that Manitobans will take.”

“So this, again, isn’t that return to normal. This is a gradual reintroduction of economic issues here, but we would still need to be cautious. We still don’t want to see increased transmission of this virus and close, prolonged contact can do that.”

PRECAUTIONS PATIOS MUST TAKE

There’s a maximum of 10 people allowed at one patio table. The province confirmed Thursday that won’t be limited to those who live together — opening up an opportunity for friends and family to gather — although, it’s still recommended you limit those meetings.

Restaurants just have to make sure there’s a distance of two metres between tables and increase cleaning and sanitization efforts.

Graves said they’re going to be extra cautious.

“We trust the health experts out there. We trust that they have everybody’s best interest at heart,” he said. “We’re going to allow no more than five people at a table and we’re going to make sure all of our tables are minimum six feet apart, if not even more than that.”

For restaurants that don’t have a patio permit, the City of Winnipeg said it will begin accepting registrations Friday for businesses that want to open a temporary patio space.

Once the province introduces phase two of its reopening, restaurants will have to apply for a permanent patio.

QUICK REOPENING LEAVES NURSES UNION CONCERNED

In a statement, Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said the decision to start reopening the economy with less than a week’s notice has left the union concerned about whether the province’s COVID-19 curve can remain flat under its comparatively quick reopening strategy.

“By significantly loosening restrictions that contradict social distancing recommendations we risk undoing the progress we have made in limiting the spread of the virus,” said Jackson.

“Case numbers are likely to grow as a result of relaxed social distancing measures, and that is likely to result in more patients in our hospitals and ICUs. That means more exposure to COVID-19 for nurses and all health care workers, who continue to report inadequate access to proper PPE.” 

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