'Let's just be absolutely clear': Top doctor says Manitobans need to stay home despite what health orders say
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, listen to a media question during the province's latest COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg Friday, October 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
WINNIPEG -- Despite an apparent walk-back on restrictions that told Manitobans not to socialize with anyone outside their household, Manitoba’s top doctor says the message is clear – stay home.
When the Province of Manitoba first introduced health orders that came into effect Thursday morning, they said gatherings would be limited to household members only.
However, when the public health orders were released late Wednesday, they said gatherings were limited to five people. This applies to ceremonies including weddings, funerals, banquets, and receptions.
On Thursday, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said the actual health orders never changed and always limited gatherings to five. What has changed is public health’s “strong recommendation” for Manitobans not to socialize outside their homes, regardless of what the health order says.
“Let's just be absolutely clear that the message from public health is to stay home, leave for essential reasons only, only socialize with those inside your household,” Roussin said.
“It is unfortunate that there’s been some confusion regarding these orders because the message has and continues to be clear – the message is stay home, the message is, do not socialize outside your household.”
He said the public health orders are simply a tool in relation to who can be fined. Roussin said making an order that limits gatherings to households only, would not only be difficult to enforce, but it could have a disproportionate effect on some people.
So for the sake of those who require care from friends or family, the orders have left the gathering limit at five people.
But Roussin said this is not an excuse for Manitobans to gather just because they won’t be fined.
“People who are at home and vulnerable and require some assistance from friends or neighbours or family – you don’t need to be afraid that you are going to get fined,” he said.
“Other people, you should just socialize within your household. I know that is difficult, but it is short term and it is definitely necessary if you look at our hospitals right now.”
He said Manitobans don’t need ‘distractions’ and should not be looking for ways to skirt the orders.
“We are at a critical juncture right now in Manitoba,” he said. “Our hospitals are nearing capacity – we have to make a change now."
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew urged Manitobans to follow Roussin’s message to stay home.
“I think it is really important that we all do our part,” he said, adding it would be easier for Manitobans to follow the messaging had there not been so much confusion around the orders.
“Now is the time for clarity,” he said. “Let’s do the right thing for Manitobans. Let’s make this as easy as possible for people to do the right thing.”
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the provincial government should have been more prepared for the surge of COVID cases that prompted the health orders.
“They weren’t. They blew it and they keep blowing it,” he said. “It is not just a question of messaging; it is not just a question of telling people what to do. It is actually helping people do those things.”
He said the province should be providing supports for the people who now have to stay home and for the businesses that must shut their doors amid the code red restrictions.
Roussin said, while these orders and recommendations are difficult, they are in place to save Manitobans’ lives.
TALKING WITH MANITOBANS
Thursday evening, Roussin, along with medical officer of health, Dr. Jazz Atwal, and government officials, held a telephone town hall to talk with Manitobans about the new restrictions.
Group gathering sizes seemed to be the focal point for many on the call, with questions ranging from clarification on the rules to why officials decided on the limit.
Vern said he has a big family – five kids plus himself and his wife – and that they are following the rules when it comes to staying home. But he felt the gathering size of five was discriminatory to his and other large families, as they can’t visit other family members, such as grandparents.
Roussin said his family counted as one household and therefore more than five is allowed within a household. But he did note staying home is the main message and other visits with family can wait.
"We do want people to stay home. We do want people only socializing in your house," said Roussin.
Interprovincial travel was also brought up, with people concerned that some Manitobans who live close to borders with other provinces might hop over to do Christmas shopping.
Atwal said right now, Manitoba is not seeing a lot of travel-related cases.
"We have to look at orders that work for Manitoba and we're hoping that this doesn't go on for a prolonged period of time or through Christmas," said Atwal.
He added, if officials start to notice cases related to interprovincial travel, they would act accordingly with the rules.
The majority of people on the call told officials that they agree with the government's decision to move into code red and they hope the cases come down soon.
-with files from CTV’s Charles Lefebvre and Renee Rodgers