Manitoba premier regrets coronavirus impact on seniors, inability to ‘save everybody’

Just days away from Manitoba marking one full year of COVID-19, Brian Pallister says he has regrets over how the pandemic has impacted the province’s seniors.

In a one-on-one interview with CJOB 680 Tuesday, Manitoba’s premier said the tragic outbreak at Maples Personal Care Home — which claimed dozens of lives and lasted nearly three months — and similar situations at other care homes has left him with sleepless nights.

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“We took steps to make sure that staff weren’t moving around, home care people weren’t moving around, we took steps with visitation rules, PPE; our province has spent more frankly per capita on programs and PPE than anybody, but it wasn’t enough to save everybody,” Pallister said.

“We’ve lost some people that are always going to be precious to us, but we’ve saved a lot of lives doing the right things too.”

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“And I think the lesson that should come from this, is we’re all in this and we’re all responsible for it, together.”

Manitoba reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 12.

Since then more than 900 Manitobans with COVID-19 have died and more than 32,000 people have contracted the virus.

The vast majority of Manitoba’s infections– more than 22,000 cases– were reported during a three three-month span between October and the end of 2020 and came after months of relatively low numbers — even days in a row without a single case reported through the summer.

Read more: Senior Canadian scientists question government plans to delay 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccine

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But as Manitoba’s daily case numbers climbed in the late fall and hospitalization rates swelled, Pallister’s government appeared hesitant to enact a full, province-wide lockdown, despite dire warnings from doctors and nurses that the province’s health-care system wouldn’t hold up.

Manitoba had among the highest active per capita infection rates in Canada by the time province-wide restrictions went into effect Nov. 12.

Pallister said Tuesday he can remember the moment he realized Manitoba was in trouble — a cabinet meeting towards the end of October — where provincial health leaders gave a presentation forecasting the province could see 1,000 infections a day by the end of November without a lockdown.

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“I got chills,” Pallister recalled.

“Remember that was two weeks after we hit triple-digits for the first time, October 20th. And then we have a projection … that we’re going to go to a thousand people a day? That’s a shocker.

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“The moving into restrictions was hard, hard on everybody, but it was the right thing to do.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Epidemiologist warns against ‘returning to normal’ with vaccinated seniors

While critics have said Manitoba’s lockdown should have started sooner, the premier staunchly defended his administration’s record, calling it a myth his government let its guard down against the virus during the summer months.

Instead, Pallister said he thinks his government didn’t do enough earlier on in the pandemic with fines and the enforcement of public health orders, saying they’ve proven to be an effective way of curbing transmission of the virus.

“This was something that once instituted started to affect people’s behaviours, particularly, I’ll say, more younger people, where the contact numbers were higher before they start to come down,” Pallister said of provincial efforts to enforce COVID-19 rules.

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“That was really important because we didn’t have those deterrents to a sufficient degree in my mind — I’ve regretted that.”

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The province’s enforcement efforts started last April. Since then, the latest provincial data shows enforcement officers have handed out 3,391 warnings and 1,028 tickets to individuals and businesses, bringing in more than $1.4 million.

But now, as restrictions slowly loosen and vaccination efforts have started across the province — including the successful completion of an ambitious effort to see all eligible personal care home residents fully-vaccinated — Pallister seems cautiously optimistic about Manitoba’s ability to bounce back from COVID-19.

Read more: Manitoba coronavirus enforcement has raked in more than $1.4 million

He said he expects Manitoba’s economy to lead the way in recovery in a post-pandemic world with help from lower taxes and his government’s recovery programs.

“We have a diverse economy, but we also have some of the most resilient small business people, the most dynamic small business community out there,” he said.

“I’m proud of Manitobans through this time — I think we’ve shown our true colours — we just can’t let our guard down now, we have to keep at it.”

–With files from Richard Cloutier and Will Reimer

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