Health officials hint that an easing of COVID-19 restrictions not far off

By | April 21, 2020

Manitoba’s top doctor is “cautiously optimistic” the province could see a loosening of its COVID-19 restrictions but for the time being, everyone needs to remain vigilant of the measures now in place.

“We will be dealing with this virus in one form or another for the foreseeable future but the plans are not to have to deal with with these strict measures for much longer,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday after announcing one new case of the virus in the province.

Since the first case was confirmed in mid-March, the province has now had 255. Of those, 150 people have recovered while 99 cases remain active.

Seven people with active cases are in hospital, including four in intensive care.  The number of deaths from COVID-19 in Manitoba remains at six.

Over the past couple of weeks, however, the number of new cases has been relatively low.

On Monday, Premier Brian Pallister said he wants to be first province to reopen and bring its economy back online. Roussin, who makes the decisions on restrictions, was asked Tuesday if he felt any pressure from the premier.

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“Certainly we realize that there’s more to health than just this virus. The impact of these public health orders are affecting Manitobans so we want to leave them in for the shortest period of time that we need,” Roussin said.

“In that respect, we want to ensure that we’re going to restart things cautiously, but it’s certainly necessary to be looking at those things. We know we can’t have the measures as stringent as they are right now. We can’t maintain this for long periods of time.”

The province has plans in place for phased-in approaches of easing the physical distancing restrictions, which have forced schools and non-essential businesses to be closed, Roussin said. But any step in that direction is dependent on a number of indicators.


The key one is the reproduction number of the virus, or R-value, which indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. So an R value of 10, for instance, means a person with the disease will transmit it to an average of 10 other people.

“We are certainly approaching an R-value of around 1 — it’s hard to know exactly where it is — but we’re sure not seeing propagation of the virus right now,” Roussin said.

“Ideally, we’d look at at least one incubation period, which is 14 days, and possibly up to 18 days or so, of these numbers to numbers to tell us we’re in a stable environment.”

Other factors to consider include:

  • Where new cases come from — be it community-based transmission, linked to known cases, or from travel.
  • The availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hospital capacity.
  • The ability to ensure measures to protect personal care homes and other at-risk people in homeless shelters and the north.
  • Phramceutical intervention, like a vaccine

“Once the public health indicators are met, will look to cautiously restart the economy and monitor the situation closely,” Roussin said.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | April 21, 2020:
Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Tuesday, April 21, 2020. 48:25

But, Roussin, warned, it would be risky to rush it.

“Our low numbers should not indicate to you that our risk is lower,” he said. “We know the virus is still here and it can still spread if we’re not careful.”

“The lower numbers are a reflection of our strict social distancing strategies. To continue our progress, we need to continue with those. I think Manitobans know how important this is.

“Manitobans know it’s their actions that got us here while numbers climb in other jurisdictions.”

Conserving PPE

The province is still working to improve its supply of PPE and has implemented new measures to conserve what it has, and to ensure it goes to those who need it most, officials said in a Tuesday news release.

As such, officials are recommending anyone entering a health-care facility wear a cloth mask. People are also encouraged to wear non-medical face masks during any health-care interaction, as well as when using public transit, Transit Plus (formerly known as Handi-Transit) or a taxi.

The province has also implemented new guidelines, similar to other jurisdictions, for doling out the protective equipment. It has classified situations based on the level of risk to workers and to the population they are caring for:

  • Green zones are settings or situations involving care or service for individuals who are not considered COVID-19 suspects.
  • Orange zones involve care or service for individuals who meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing, those who have been tested, and whose results are pending.
  • Red zones involve care or service for individuals who have been tested and confirmed to have COVID-19.

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