Manitoba NDP wants premier to bring in military to help with COVID-19 surge

As the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm Manitoba’s health-care system, the Manitoba NDP is urging the premier to bring in the military to provide additional supports.

On Monday, the province reported 809 new cases of COVID-19 and six deaths over three days, with 333 cases on Sunday alone. 

Ottawa said Saturday that it will send up to eight intensive care unit nurses from the Canadian Red Cross to Manitoba in response to a request from the province last weekend for 15 to 30 nurses.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said that won’t be enough, and the province should call in the military now. 

“We need many more nurses, respiratory therapists and health-care professionals to help bolster the situation in ICUs,” he said. 

“They need to treat this situation with the urgency it demands. That begins with calling in the military.”

Kinew said just over a year ago his party was calling on then premier Brian Pallister to bring in the military as Manitoba dealt with hundreds of new COVID-19 cases a day and deadly outbreaks at several personal care homes. 

He called on Stefanson not to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, who had said the military wouldn’t be needed. 

NDP health-care critic Uzoma Asagwara said they are also hearing that people are waiting up to three or four hours for a COVID-19 test, and additional resources are needed in that area as well. 

“When folks know that, when people are hearing that there’s waits of three to four hours for testing, unfortunately, there are going to be people who don’t go and wait,” Asagwara said. 

Businesses in need

The NDP also called on the government to renew supports for businesses impacted by the capacity limits that came into effect Tuesday. 

Kinew compared the situation to A Christmas Carol, the classic Charles Dickens novella about the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. 

“People are losing their wages and here we are just a few sleeps before Christmas,” he said. 

CBC News has reached out to the province for comment. 

Advocates for the business community are making similar pleas.  

As of Tuesday, restaurants, bars and theatres are restricted to 50 per cent capacity in Manitoba to try to stem the threat of the Omicron variant. 

Chuck Davidson, the head of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said the fast spread of Omicron took everyone by surprise. 

“I think there’s no question this one caught everyone a little bit off guard,” he said. 

“I think most of us had thought that we were through this, that … we’d sort of turned a corner, that this was becoming sort of that new normal and that business was returning back to, you know, sort of more normal levels.”

Most government support programs have ended, but Davidson thinks it’s time for the province to revisit them. 

“What we’re looking at right now is that those businesses that are asked to really shoulder the burden of this debt are to be compensated in return for that, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable whatsoever,” he said. 

On Monday, Shaun Jeffrey, CEO of the Manitoba Restaurants and Food Services Association, made similar comments, highlighting that restaurants and lounges will be losing a lot of income during what is typically their busiest season of the year. 

“We’re hoping that, you know, the government can come to the table with some sort of assistance with this, because our industry is first to close and last open, and shouldering the brunt of trying to keep Manitobans safe,” he said.

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