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Manitoba government pulls back on some COVID-19 rules as case numbers drop

·2 min read

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is easing some of its COVID-19 restrictions in southern and central areas as case numbers continue to slowly drop.

Starting Saturday, non-essential retail stores will be allowed to reopen at 25 per cent capacity. Since November, they have been limited to delivery or curbside pickup service.

Hair salons, barber shops and some personal health services such as reflexology can restart as well.

A ban on social visits inside private homes is being eased. Households will be allowed to designate two people who will be allowed to visit indoors. Up to five people can visit outdoors.

"Our collective progress in reducing the spread of COVID means we can undertake these very careful, very cautious reopenings at this point," Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said Thursday.

The changes will last three weeks, at which time more openings could be considered, Roussin said. The changes are not being made in the northern health region, where outbreaks in isolated communities have caused a spike in case numbers in recent weeks.

Health officials reported 196 additional COVID-19 cases Thursday and five more deaths. More than half the new cases were northern residents.

The Retail Council of Canada welcomed the news that some restrictions would be eased.

"We're relieved by today's announcement that follows over two months of very severe restrictions that have left retailers limping along using curbside delivery where possible," council spokesman John Graham said.

While non-essential stores can reopen, some other businesses, including gyms, bars and nail salons, must remain closed. Restaurants will continue to be limited to takeout and delivery.

With the demand for intensive care unit beds still running above pre-pandemic capacity, Roussin said special care must be taken when it comes to places where people gather.

"Venues that have prolonged, indoor contact — crowded places, enclosed spaces — those are where a lot of the risk (of virus transmission) lies," Roussin said.

Premier Brian Pallister has left the door open to providing more supports for businesses as the closures and capacity limits continue, although did not provide specifics.

Pallister said he is trusting Manitobans to follow the rules, and made special mention of household visits.

"We don't have enough enforcement people to check every household," Pallister said.

"We're asking you to follow the rules because that's how we'll keep each other safe."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press