Winnipeg Regional Health Authority chair steps down after reported trip during pandemic

Manitoba’s premier says the appointed chair of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s board of directors is stepping down after he reportedly travelled to the southern United States during COVID-19.

Last week, the Winnipeg Free Press first reported Wayne McWhirter left for Arizona last month, where he said he told the paper he was working remotely.

Read more: Manitoba premier enacts 2-week isolation order for travel in Canada, calls on feds to close borders

The reported trip came as provincial health officials pleaded with Manitobans to stay at home and not travel outside the province for non-essential purposes.

In a statement sent to media late Monday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said McWhirter is leaving his role with the WRHA.

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“After discussion with my office, Wayne McWhirter will be stepping down as chair of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority,” Pallister said in the brief statement.

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The move comes after Health Minister Heather Stefanson said last Wednesday the government had no plans to rescind McWhirter’s role.

Pallister’s statement announcing the resignation also laid out rules prohibiting all Manitoba government Order-in-Council appointees from travelling for leisure outside permitted travel areas.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Manitoba premier to enact 2-week isolation orders for travel in Canada' Coronavirus: Manitoba premier to enact 2-week isolation orders for travel in Canada

Coronavirus: Manitoba premier to enact 2-week isolation orders for travel in Canada

Pallister said last week he was disappointed McWhirter disregarded a strong recommendation from health officials that Manitobans avoid unnecessary travel, but noted McWhirter ought to be cut some slack because he worked mainly as a volunteer.

The Opposition NDP and Liberals had called for Pallister to remove McWhirter from his post.

Read more: Manitoba reports 3 additional coronavirus deaths, 89 new cases

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Pallister says he’s implementing the travel rules for appointees due to concerns about COVID-19 variants now emerging, and he says it applies to those serving on agencies, boards, and commissions.

Last week Manitoba health officials introduced travel restrictions requiring anyone who enters Manitoba to self-isolate for 14 days.

— With files from The Canadian Press

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Manitoba reports 3 coronavirus deaths, 157 cases as new travel restrictions take effect' Coronavirus: Manitoba reports 3 coronavirus deaths, 157 cases as new travel restrictions take effect

Coronavirus: Manitoba reports 3 coronavirus deaths, 157 cases as new travel restrictions take effect

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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