Calls for respect, concerns about community division follow southern Manitoba’s move to code red

The mayor of Winkler hopes that southern Manitobans will follow new code red public health restrictions out of respect for each other, but he worries about divisions over COVID-19 in his community.

Southern Manitoba will become the third region in the province to have restrictions as part of the red, or critical, level of Manitoba’s pandemic response system as of Monday.

Martin Harder, mayor of Winkler, a city located nearly 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, was shocked that the southern region will be under new restrictions, especially since his community has had relatively low numbers of COVID-19.

“[I am] very proud of the fact that we have been and are doing very well, and I certainly hope that I can do whatever I can to keep it that way,” said Harder, adding that the province informed him yesterday about the upcoming announcement.

Another 52 COVID-19 cases were announced in the southern health region Friday, bringing the total active known cases there to 428.

“I would encourage our communities to show respect … for others by wearing the mask, because it’s our lives. It’s our health that’s at stake. It’s the families that need to be able to function,” Harder said.

The mayor is concerned, however, about the province’s snitch line, which allows citizens to call in tips about people not following public health protocols. Harder says the telephone line is creating some issues in the community, “pitting families against families, community against community members, church members against church members.”

While speaking with CBC News, Harder also dispelled rumours that local police were issuing public health fines at a Superstore.

“The Winkler police have not issued any tickets yet,” the mayor said. “They were at Superstore because that is the location where we had the most flak about, and they were there to assist the health inspector who was issuing tickets.”

Harder noted the Winkler police could issue tickets but only for extreme cases.

“I believe they have an obligation to uphold the law, which they will. But in this particular case, I just wish that that particular grocery store would have done the same as some other ones, where they enforced [the mask mandate] earlier.”

‘Our cases have gone in the wrong direction’

Twenty-one people from the region are currently being treated in hospital, including three who are in the ICU. So far, 16 people from the southern health region have died from COVID-19.

“We’ve been messaging to Manitobans for quite some time about the importance of the fundamentals and to reduce their contacts. But as we can see, our cases have gone in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer, during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing.

“We’re seeing more cases, more strain on the health care system, so further action is required.”

Altona, Man., resident Erika Enns Rodine was expecting the shift to level red, but is curious about how people will react.

“It seems, in our general area, that there has kind of been a division in the community, between those who are cautious and adhere to public advisement and those who have a disregard for that and public health in general,” said Enns Rodine, who’s a minister at First Mennonite Church on Notre Dame Avenue in Winnipeg.

While some residents in Altona, a town just over 90 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, have been following health rules to the best of their ability, Enns Rodine said, others have disregarded them and gone so far as to say they won’t even get tested for COVID-19.

“I’m apprehensive about how people will actually follow the [new] public health orders in my region.”

Starting Monday, communities such as Portage la Prairie, Winkler and Altona will be under similar restrictions as northern Manitoba and the Winnipeg metropolitan region.

Churches will adjust their plans for services, as capacity is capped at 15 per cent or 100 people — whichever is lower.

Grocery stores and pharmacies will operate at half capacity, but all other retail stores will be reduced to 25 per cent capacity or five people — whichever is higher. Those capacity limits exclude employees.

Restaurants and bars will no longer be able to offer dine-in service. VLTs and other gaming centres will be closed.

All sports facilities will be closed, but gyms and fitness centres can still operate at 25 per cent capacity and masks are mandatory even while exercising.

Public health officials are encouraging employers to let their employees work from home if and when they are able. Residents should also stay home as much as possible, Roussin said.

Roussin is urging all southern Manitoba residents to follow the guidelines that will be in effect starting Monday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

“It’s the intent that these new orders will … decrease the transmission of virus in the community,” he said.

“We want to leave them on for the shortest amount of time necessary, want to leave them at the least restrictive means necessary to make a change. But I think it should be very, very clear that we need a change right now.”

In addition to the public health orders, all public buildings in Winkler, a city located nearly 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, will be closed to the public as of Monday, said Harder.

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