These new pandemic rules apply to all Manitobans. Here’s how they will affect your Thanksgiving

New rules are coming into effect across Manitoba aimed at preventing transmission of COVID-19 and more transmissible coronavirus variants.

The province is doing that in two ways — by limiting capacity in businesses in the Southern Health Region where mask use and vaccine uptake is lower, and limiting gathering sizes across the rest of the province if an unvaccinated person is in your midst.

The rules come into effect before Thanksgiving this weekend and Halloween in a few weeks, and as cases have begun a worrying rise, particularly in the south of the province. 

Last year, a number of cases were linked to Thanksgiving and other gatherings where people ignored public health orders.

This Thanksgiving, you may have to ask your guests to bring their vaccine cards along with cranberry sauce.

Here are answers to some common questions about the new public health orders, which come into effect on Tuesday.

How will the new rules impact my Thanksgiving dinner?

First of all, your guest list may have to change if even one of the people invited has chosen not to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Private indoor gatherings will be restricted to two households if any person at the gathering has chosen not to get vaccinated.

Medical staff handle a syringe containing a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Starting on Tuesday, new pandemic rules target the unvaccinated by curtailing gatherings if they include people who are eligible to be vaccinated but have not been. (Andreea Alexandru/The Associated Press)

Only 10 people, not including members of the hosting household, will be allowed to gather outdoors on private property if someone is attending who’s eligible for vaccination but hasn’t gotten their shots. 

If you host your family dinner at a public place where someone isn’t vaccinated, only 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is lower, will be allowed in such a situation.

What’s changing for those who attend houses of worship?

Houses of worship aren’t currently required to ask for vaccine status, but that changes on Tuesday.

They can either only allow vaccinated congregants, or have a hard cap.

The province says groups that allow people who are able to be vaccinated but aren’t protected will have to reduce to 25 people or 33 per cent capacity, whichever is greater.

Fully immunized people and those under 12, who aren’t yet eligible for vaccination, will be allowed to gather in houses of worship without capacity limits.

Powwows have the same rules.

I have a wedding or funeral coming up. How will the rules impact them?

Weddings in the province are changing.

Under previous health orders, weddings that were licensed for alcohol could only have vaccinated people present.

Now the door is open but the onus is on the hosts — do you invite vaccinated people only, with or without booze, or do you cut your guest list to allow unvaccinated people to be present?

Reduced capacity rules only apply to weddings and funerals where people are present who are able to be vaccinated but decide not to.

If your wedding or funeral is held indoors at a public place and people are in attendance that are able to be vaccinated but will not, the maximum number of people allowed is 25 or 25 per cent of the capacity, whichever is lower.

If the wedding or funeral is outdoors in a public place and you don’t ensure people are vaccinated, the maximum number of people who are allowed to attend is 50.

If you hold your wedding or funeral at a private residence or on the property on which a private residence is located, the gathering limits are the same as any other gathering at a private residence.

The reduced capacity rules will start Oct. 12 to give people time to come into compliance.

David McPherson attended the Red River Ex in August. Events like this will be capped at 50 people under new rules unless the organizers ensure every eligible person is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Travis Golby/CBC)

What about outdoor fairs and community gatherings?

Outdoor fairs, festivals and other outdoor community events are capped at 50 people unless every eligible adult is vaccinated, the public health order says.

Larger community events can be held with more than 50 vaccinated people if a public health official has approved it or it follows existing public health guidelines.

Will the new rules impact businesses?

Some businesses will be affected.

Capacity limits will drop to 50 per cent for businesses located in the Southern Health Region starting on Tuesday — the only rule that impacts that region alone.

Cases of COVID-19 are increasing disproportionately in the health region, particularly among those who haven’t been immunized.

A sign espousing opposition to vaccine mandates is seen in the RM of Stanley, about 100 kilometres south of Winnipeg. The public health orders are aimed at curbing COVID-19 transmission, which is disproportionately high in the Southern Health Region, where Stanley is located. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The region also has the lowest vaccine uptake of all the health regions at 66.1 per cent, compared to Winnipeg’s 87.7 per cent as of Friday.

“We’ve seen issues there with adherence to masks in indoor public places. So there’s a number of reasons that we felt for that particular order, we would take a regional approach,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said on Oct. 1.

Why are the rules targeting unvaccinated Manitobans?

The new rules are to prevent the province’s health-care system from once more being overwhelmed by an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations — a surge now largely driven by people who aren’t fully immunized.

New provincial data released last week shows that a miniscule percentage of Manitobans experienced severe outcomes of COVID-19 after being vaccinated.

In total, 940,193 Manitobans are fully vaccinated, and of those, 941 tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sept. 27, provincial data shows.

Of those 941 people, 71 ended up in hospital, or 0.01 per cent of all vaccinated people. Eighteen patients who were fully vaccinated have died — five in their 60s and 13 over 70.

The QR code on the back of the COVID-19 vaccination card can be scanned by anyone with the province’s Immunization Verifier app (Rachel Bergen/CBC)

How can I check my visitors’ vaccine status?

Manitobans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can get a digital QR code or a physical card which, when scanned, proves their vaccine status.

Anyone with the Manitoba Immunization Verifier app can scan the card. When scanned, the person’s name will be displayed to the verifier so the person’s immunization status can be confirmed.

The occupants of the private residence where a gathering is held are responsible for determining the vaccination status of all persons attending the gathering, the public health order says.

Will these rules even be enforced?

The province hasn’t confirmed whether it will ramp up enforcement of public health orders.

Individuals who break public health orders can be fined $1,296, while businesses can be fined $5,000.

People who are caught not wearing masks in indoor places can be ticketed $298.

Roussin says public health order enforcement is just “one part of the puzzle.” He hopes people will do the right thing as the number of people admitted to hospital and ICU climb. 

Of those, “very, very, very few people” are fully immunized, he says.

“The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, to protect the people around you. And we’re really in our fourth wave right now. Numbers will continue to climb unless we’re going to step up, follow these restrictions and get vaccinated.”

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