The Manitoba government has announced new measures to speed up health-care equipment creation, provide extra tax relief and increase shelter capacity for vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Brian Pallister announced the province will spend more than $100 million to accelerate how fast Manitoba can get essential medical supplies, equipment, hotel capacity and other critical needs to help address the effects of the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“This $100-million investment will allow us to support made-in-Manitoba products and solutions from local businesses to quickly help in our collective efforts to fight COVID-19 and protect Manitobans in the weeks and months ahead,” Pallister said.
“Manitobans have always risen to the challenge and what we’ve seen so far during this pandemic is no exception.”
The new measures will help businesses scale up operations or retool production to manufacture gowns, masks, face shields and other essential items.
Pallister said Manitoba needs to work on fulfilling its own needs before it can start to help other provinces with supplies.
“You can’t help the needy of the world if you’re one yourself,” he said.
Manitoba is also issuing a call to businesses that have stocks of personal protective equipment that aren’t being used right now. Businesses can donate unused equipment that is in its original packaging, clean and in useable condition.
The province is also introducing a four-month deferral period for individuals and businesses to pay provincial income taxes that extends to Aug. 31, with no interest or penalties. The Manitoba government said it would be willing to extend these deferrals to Oct. 1 if the federal government agrees.
There will also be a six-month extension for any interest or penalties for Manitoba Hydro or gas bills, MPI premiums, Workers Compensation Board premiums and education property taxes.
Pallister chastised labour unions complaining about members having to use banked sick days to self-isolate.
“This isn’t the time for unions to advocate for additional and non-existing benefits,” he said.
WATCH | Premier Brian Pallister addresses Manitobans on Friday
Tax relief coming
These measures could add up to hundreds of millions in tax relief, Pallister said.
“We know that the pain you are experiencing and the stress you’re feeling is real,” he said. “That pain is real and we want to do what we can to lessen it.”
The province will also make home and business property insurance more affordable by speeding up the removal of $75 million of annual provincial sales tax from residential and business properties effective July 1. That’s on top of the corporate payroll tax and PST remittance deferral already announced.
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Manitoba is also offering a six-month cash flow relief to Oct. 1 in several areas. It has instructed Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries not to charge interest on receivable from restaurants, bars and specialty wine stores — a move the province says will help small businesses, which have been hit particularly hard by the ripple effects of the pandemic.
The province is also directing Centra Gas and Manitoba Hydro not to disconnect customers right now, and won’t be charging interest on school division fees or education property taxes.
It has also directed Manitoba Public Insurance to relax its usual practices for policy renewals and collections during this time.
More shelter beds
Pallister said the government is taking action to secure extra space for patients, including by issuing requests for proposals for temporary space, if needed, for potential low acuity hospitals in the Brandon area, Winnipeg and Thompson region.
“We’re hoping for the best, preparing for the worst,” he said.
The province is spending up to $1.2 million more to add and repurpose more than 140 new shelter beds for people experiencing homelessness, which will help people in shelters practise physical distancing.
This money will go toward repurposing a vacant Manitoba Housing building on Sargent Avenue to create 31 new beds, and adding 35 beds provided by the Salvation Army at its Martha Street location.
Main Street Project will manage the beds at the Sargent Avenue location and partner with other shelters to co-ordinate access among its clients. That location will open Friday and others will become available as soon as possible, the province said.
The Sargent Avenue building may also be used to create self-isolation units for homeless people who need them.
The funds will also help extend Siloam Mission’s capacity by 50 beds, and move people at the Salvation Army’s SonRise Village to other locations, which will free up its 26 beds for new clients.
The province is also in the process of arranging hotel accommodations, additional isolation facilities and recovery centres.
“This is an area that I do not want Manitobans concerned about. If you need the care for COVID or anything else for that matter, you’ll be receiving that care,” Pallister said.
No doomsday predictions
The premier said how far the virus is able to spread in Manitoba largely depends on how strictly people follow new rules in place to limit gatherings and keep people far apart from each other.
“I have very little patience for those that are so thoughtless and stupid as to ignore the wellbeing of themselves and others,” he said.
“Make the necessary decisions that will help save lives. Not every generation has a chance to do that.”
Pallister said making accurate predictions about how the virus will play out across the province is difficult, and declined to provide any numbers that might represent Manitoba’s worst-case scenario in terms of infection and death.
Pallister last spoke to the media on Wednesday during a press conference with Health Minister Cameron Friesen, when they announced that Manitoba will now let former nurses apply for an expedited temporary registration during the pandemic, in an effort to bolster the province’s health care staff before the COVID-19 situation in Manitoba gets worse.
That same day, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced community transmission has been detected in Winnipeg for the first time, after public health officials were unable to determine the transmission chain for five cases in the city.
Officials announced 40 new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba on Thursday, bringing the province’s total to 167.
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