Most provincial health-care employees, teachers and child-care workers will have to be fully vaccinated, and masks will be required in indoor public settings, including schools, in Manitoba, Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin announced Tuesday.
The province will also expand the list of activities and services that can only be accessed if an individual is fully immunized.
The new rules are coming in response to the threat posed by the more contagious delta variant, Pallister said.
While COVID-19 cases in Manitoba remain relatively low, other provinces are seeing a sharp increase in case numbers driven largely by the delta variant.
Pandemic modelling predicts B.C. could see up to 10,000 cases per day within weeks, while Ontario anticipates as many as 7,000 cases per day by mid-October, Pallister said.
“We’re in a serious situation. We’re taking pre-emptive action, because we want to avoid the magnitude of what we saw in the second and third wave,” he said.
By bringing in tougher vaccination and mask requirements now, the province is hoping to blunt the effects of the impending fourth wave of the pandemic, Pallister said.
“We delayed the onset of COVID in the second wave and the third wave more than most other jurisdictions, but we got hit harder than everybody else, in part, I suppose, because of the delay,” he said.
The employees affected by the new orders include those who work with people at risk from COVID-19, especially children, the elderly and sick patients, and health-care workers who work in spaces or with equipment used by people in those categories.
Other examples include education and child-care workers, or people who live in high-risk settings such as congregate living and correctional facilities.
WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin on mandatory vaccine mandate:
Workers interacting with vulnerable people must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31, which means they must get their first dose no later than Sept. 7, the first day of school, and their second dose by Oct. 17.
Any employee who hasn’t been fully vaccinated or who can’t show proof of vaccination must take regular COVID-19 tests, up to three times a week for full-time employees.
The province is also encouraging private businesses and organizations to mandate vaccines for their staff.
The new rules come weeks after the province ditched its mask mandate for most businesses and schools. Since then, many school divisions, post-secondary institutions and businesses have implemented their own mask and vaccine mandates.
Manitoba NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said province has sent mixed messages about its health measures.
“This announcement today comes late,” they said.
“It comes after universities, it comes after school divisions, it comes after businesses have already made really tough decisions and put plans in place in terms of how they’re going to keep people safe. This announcement today reflects decisions that could have and should have been made weeks ago.”
WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin on province-wide mask mandate:
Roussin said the decision to lift the mask mandate was made at a time when case numbers were relatively low and health officials felt confident with the level of risk.
“But you can just see happening around us in Canada, it’s just clear that we’re going to get ahead of this now … so that we can do whatever we can to limit the effects of this pandemic fourth wave.”
Vaccination rate stalls
Pallister hopes the new vaccine rules will boost the province’s sagging vaccination rate.
“The vaccine uptake numbers that had been going up relatively steadily have stalled, let’s be honest. So we have to get back at it,” he said.
Vaccination rates in the province currently sit at 81.4 per cent of eligible Manitobans with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 75.6 per cent with two doses.
The pace of vaccinations has slowed considerably in August.
On July 1, the seven-day average number of daily doses administered was 25,551. By Aug. 1, that number had fallen to 9,842, and as of Aug. 23, the average was 2,390.
The province has begun shutting down some of its large vaccination centres.
The Leila Avenue supersite in Winnipeg will administer its last shots on Aug. 30, and the province announced Monday that the supersite in The Pas will shut down Wednesday.
The winners of the first vaccine lottery, for those who got their first dose by Aug. 2, have been announced. There will be a second draw for everyone who gets a second dose by Sept. 6. The date for that draw has not been set.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | August 24, 2021:
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