Strict Manitoba health orders extended through the holidays, but they come with some changes

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s strict public health orders are being extended over the holiday season, but some changes are coming to the orders including an about-face on drive-in church services and the ability to buy holiday-related items in-store.

On Tuesday, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, and Premier Brian Pallister announced the current round of health orders, which were set to expire on Dec. 11, will be extended until January 8, 2021.

The majority of these health orders will go unchanged – the limits on private indoor gatherings remains restricted to household contacts only.

Pallister said it is crucial that Manitobans continue to limit close contacts and only gather with members of their household this holiday season.

“That’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be lonely for many, but the best thing we can do now for our loved ones is to stay apart so that we may be together in person next year,” Pallister said.

Roussin said Manitoba’s COVID-19 case numbers would be much worse had it not been for strict restrictions put in place more than three weeks ago. He said the orders are being extended before the holidays to “keep us on the right path.”

SUBSTANTIAL LOOSENING AROUND DRIVE-IN EVENTS

Roussin said the extension does include a substantial loosening of orders around drive-in events, such as drive-in church services. As of Dec. 12, drive-in services will be permitted – though he said this will be a “temporary and time-limited” measure and will be subject to compliance.

He said anyone in a vehicle must be from one household only, and they are not allowed to leave their vehicle while at the event. The province has said it will be monitoring adherence to the orders but did not provide details on what this will look like.

“If we find that drive-in events are not being restricted to households within the same vehicle, or people are getting out of their vehicles at these events – the orders will be subject to change,” Roussin said.

The province said this change will also allow the Red River Exhibition drive-thru light show to move forward.

MANITOBA THRIFT STORES ALLOWED TO OPEN THEIR DOORS

With these extended orders, Manitobans will now be able to purchase holiday items in-person and shop in thrift stores.

The province said there will be a seasonal exemption on certain items that are considered non-essential – this will include things like wrapping paper, decorations, religious items like menorahs, or other holiday supplies. The province is working to finalize the legal wording of these orders, which will provide more detail as to what specifically can be purchased in-store.

Thrift stores will be allowed to open with no restrictions on the merchandise that is being sold but must follow the capacity limits currently in place at other retail locations.

Public health said the shutdown of non-essential items for in-person sales has had a disproportionate effect on lower-income families that rely on access to thrift stores. They said not everyone has access to online shopping or curbside pick-up, which is one of the reasons thrift stores will be allowed to open their doors.

Other changes to the orders include:

  • Acupuncture and manual osteopathy to be allowed to open;
  • School supplies to be considered an essential item;
  • Legal services, landlord and home businesses to be allowed to enter private residences;
  • More guidance on outdoor activities, encouraging people to get outside with a clarification that people not from the same household must be two metres distanced and must not exceed a gathering of five people;
  • More clarity for the operation of food banks and food hamper services.

The orders have yet to be finalized, but the draft of these orders will be released as soon as possible, public health said.

Roussin said Manitobans need to step up and follow these orders, adding case numbers will drop if there is a high level of compliance to the orders.

“Our message to Manitobans today is, our current very restrictive public health guidelines are necessary to rapidly manage the case numbers that we are currently seeing,” he said. “Right now the public has a very significant role in determining how successful these measures will be.”

The extended orders will take effect this Saturday, Dec. 12.

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