Dismay, disappointment follow Manitoba's shift from COVID-19 prevention to mitigation

Some health experts say the province's plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, instead of prevent it, is poorly timed, with some parents feeling let down. But as Will Reimer explains, others think it's the most realistic course of action.

Winnipeg parent Brent Johnson is dismayed with the province’s decision to shift away from COVID-19 prevention and instead focus on mitigation, with the Omicron variant so widely circulating.

“I was greatly disappointed. I mean, it really does feel like caution is being thrown to the wind and Manitobans are being thrown to the wolves, and that wolf’s name is Omicron,” Johnson says.

He was referring to Wednesday’s press conference with government leaders and health officials, in which Premier Heather Stefanson said “it’s up to Manitobans to look after themselves” and focus on the fundamentals of mask-wearing and handwashing.

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Johnson has two boys in elementary school and says that press conference left him much more nervous about sending them back to school next week.

“I don’t disagree that probably everyone will be exposed and likely catch Omicron,” Johnson says.

“I do think we need to take more steps to slow that down for the sake of all our critical care workers, for our health-care system and for our school system, but I don’t see that happening. That is really what weighs heavily on my mind right now.”

Dr. Dan Roberts, who is a critical care physician at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre, bluntly says the government is taking a “defeatist attitude.”

“Certainly Omicron is much more contagious, so preventing spread is much more difficult than in previous pandemic peaks or surges, but that just requires a smarter approach,” Dr. Roberts says.

“To make the argument that virtually everybody is either going to get COVID or be vaccinated … could have been declared at the beginning of this pandemic. The real important consideration is how quickly it ravages through the community.”

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Dr. Roberts was one of nine critical care physicians and health experts who signed on to an open letter this week raising alarms about the “crushing numbers of (hospital) admissions.”

“The only options this government has left us with is to avoid adding fuel to the Omicron fire and proceed as quickly as possible to provide second vaccine doses to children and third doses to adults,” the letter reads in part.

They went on to say sending kids back to school for in-person learning next week was a “major concern.”

Read the full letter here:

View this document on Scribd

Meantime, Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, doesn’t feel the government has ‘thrown in the towel.’

“We still have mask requirements, we still have vaccine mandates for most businesses,” Davidson says.

“I think what the message I got from yesterday is that there’s no sense in putting any further restrictions in place because I think they’re not going to have the impact of getting to the point where we’ve got no Omicron in Manitoba. I think we’re past that.”

But, in order to prevent more businesses from going under, Davidson would like to see wider access to rapid test kits in the workplace.

“That’s our key message right now: we want to keep the businesses open, but we also need to make sure it’s done safely,” Davidson says.

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Dr. Roberts, however, doesn’t feel it’s too late to take any steps that might further cut down virus transmission, pointing out the full effects of the winter holidays and New Year’s on hospitals may not be completely realized for another 10 to 14 days.

“To say, ‘Well, this is the worst it’s going to get’ is wishful thinking,” Dr. Roberts says.

“That’s why the letter we sent out was asking for a delay in sending more than 100,000 K to (grade) eight children back to school on Monday. They’re not adequately vaccinated.”

Among those are Johnson’s kids, who he says only became eligible for a first dose at the end of November.

“In a lot of ways it feels like the return to school is happening too soon for many reasons,” Johnson says.

“I really do feel that as they said they’re leaving it to individual Manitobans now to manage their own risk and manage their own safety, which is unfortunate. Because we all have a role to play and we have been doing that up until this point, but I really feel like it’s an abdication of government’s responsibility to its citizens.”

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