Jo Beyers hasn’t seen her son in The Pas, Man., for more than half a year — the longest they’ve ever been apart.
“When you do get the occasional SOS call, and you know you can’t legally go and visit, it’s pretty traumatic,” Beyers said.
Like many Canadians, Beyers and her son live in different provinces, and have been under travel restrictions brought in to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Starting Sunday, as Manitoba enters Phase 3 of its reopening plan, the province will drop its mandatory two-week self-isolation period for some visitors.
If you’re coming from Western Canada, the territories, or part of northwestern Ontario (west of Terrace Bay), you can enter Manitoba without self-isolating, as long as you don’t have symptoms or known exposure to COVID-19.
Beyers lives in northeastern Ontario in the small town of Thessalon. It’s about 400 kilometres southeast of Terrace Bay, the line Manitoba has drawn that would exempt her from the quarantine rule.
As of this week, the vast region of northeastern Ontario has only had 200 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. In Beyer’s health unit of Algoma, only 23 cases have been found.
Beyers, who retired from a job as a researcher in public health, said Manitoba should consider how the COVID-19 situation in northern Ontario is different than southern Ontario.
While Ontario has been a hotbed for cases of the novel coronavirus, the majority of the cases have been centred around Toronto — more than 400 kilometres from where Beyers lives.
“Northern Ontario takes three days to drive across. It’s huge,” she said. “Why would they draw the line [there]? Is it the criteria for where most Manitobans have camps?”
Beyers said she doesn’t understand why she would still be required to self-isolate if she visited Manitoba, while her family in Alberta, where there have been over 7,500 cases to date, would not.
‘When will I get to see my mother again?’
Meanwhile, Charlie Steele from Halifax wants to see his 82-year-old mother, who lives in Portage la Prairie, Man.
“She’s not getting any younger,” Steele said. “Time is precious and I’d like to be able to have some quality time with her.”
Steele said he worries about what will happen if Manitoba’s restrictions for travellers from Atlantic Canada aren’t eased this summer, and the number of COVID-19 cases rises in the fall.
“If I don’t go this summer … when will I get to see my mother again?”
Like northern Ontario, the rates in the Maritimes have also been among the lowest in the country.
“The infection rates in the Maritimes and Atlantic Canada are significantly lower than what they currently are in the provinces Manitoba is opening its borders up to,” Steele said.
“As an outsider looking in, I don’t understand it.”
Steele said he’d take a direct flight between Halifax and Winnipeg so he could avoid COVID-19 hot spots in Ontario and Quebec.
“I wouldn’t go if I felt there was going to be a health risk to her,” he said. “I guess it comes back, fundamentally, to at what point are Canadians going to start to travel again?”
If the isolation rules can’t be completely lifted, Steele would like to see some sort of accommodation made for families trying to see each other in different provinces.
Both Beyers and Steele say they don’t want to travel if health officials deem it a risk, but they want Manitoba to give a clearer explanation of how it’s deciding who can enter the province without isolating.
Premier not sure how line was set
When asked about the decision, a spokesperson for Shared Health said the province looked at rates of community transmission in other jurisdictions, but would not elaborate.
Meanwhile, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday he wasn’t exactly sure why health officials had chosen the northwestern Ontario town of Terrace Bay as the cutoff.
“We do know there is a lot of activity between Manitoba and Ontario, business and other. And so I believe that the medical experts looked at that in the design of the plan,” he said.
Pallister said the province is keeping an eye on the low COVID-19 rates in the Maritimes as well.
Along with Nova Scotia, Manitoba was one of the last two provinces maintaining mandatory two-week isolation rules for travellers.
“We’ll continue to monitor the situation both there, here, and elsewhere to look at moving further restrictions back as we can do so safely in the future.”
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