The Province of Manitoba is extending its COVID-19 Public Health Order of Code Red for another three weeks before a future evaluation. Yes, there have been changes made to the PHO: allowing visitation between two designated people per household, the sale of non-essential items and the ability to get haircuts, however, the lack of opportunity for organized physical activity leaves many Manitobans enraged.
With organized sports put on what was originally deemed a ‘brief, four-week hold’ stemming from late-October to the end of November, the Manitoba PHO of Code Red was extended and extended again in mid-December and again in early-January. This 11-week period of isolation will continue another three weeks, with the slight alterations of shopping, haircuts and visitors moving forward.
Despite pleas from many Manitobans to open gyms, allow organized sports and the continuation of recreational sporting seasons, the provincial government has not budged an ounce in its heavy stranglehold on youth/amateur/junior/adult sport.
According to many local psychologists, the long-term effects of a lack of community-building/team-building activities will be detrimental to the development of our province’s future students, employees and officials. The lack of sport/fitness will also have harmful results – both in the present and future – as potential injury, lack of growth/development, and unequal advantages will begin to creep into the picture.
Keeping local gyms, yoga studios, fitness centres, tracks, pools, clubs and community-based recreational activity centres inoperable will continue to see the citizens of Manitoba take on unhealthy habits – both due to the inaccessibility of proper equipment and the lack of motivation at home – as well as injury and heavy mental fatigue.
This past week, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin told reporters that despite the Code Red regulations, the City of Winnipeg has been allowing its employees to use its fitness centres and gyms as an exemption to the rules. Although not given permission to do so by the health authority Roussin explained that the City didn’t require permission as it was a ‘municipal level of government’.
“We expect governments to be able to regulate and so we’re not going to tell governments how they function,” Roussin said in his availability earlier this week. “If they feel that they could have limited capacity and run these gyms for their employees for certain reasons, then we’re not regulating that. Our public health orders don’t apply to any levels of government, so they don’t apply to federal, provincial or municipal governments.”
Following this backlash, all City of Winnipeg employee gyms and fitness centres will be closing, however, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Winnipeg Police Service will remain open as ‘mandatory fitness training is a requirement of first responders’.
“With respect to fitness facilities, a public health inspector provided information to the City of Winnipeg that was incomplete and lacked context,” Roussin pointed out. “A private gym at City Hall or other city facilities for use by elected officials or other city staff does not fall into that description and should not remain open under the spirit and intent of Manitoba’s public health orders.”
In response, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman was quick to point out that this was not a blatant form of disobedience but rather some unclarity between the two levels of government within Manitoba.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said of the uncertainty surrounding City of Winnipeg officials and their training programs. “This is the level of government that sets these rules and when we ask them for advice on how they’re implemented, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect their advice will be complete. This just underscores the challenges that I think many folks are having in this province of getting clarity from the province when they need it. When the province is asked to provide input and approval and they conduct inspections, we should be able to rely on the provincial officials for that guidance.”
Dating back to the start of Code Red on November 12, Dr. Roussin has made it clear that physical activity is totally fine to participate in on one’s own, and actually encouraged. Despite that, Roussin claims long-exposure activities such as the opening of gyms and organized sports will not be coming back into the fold anytime soon.
“I really encourage everyone to be kind and find ways to stay active,” Roussin said. “We have to try to find ways to get through this. You need to find ways to stay active. It is very important to stay active, both when you are at home finding ways to stay active and also when you are out and about enjoying some of the winter. You will just have to plan ahead and make sure you are not getting into crowded places and just keep those group sizes down.”
Last week, Dr. Roussin compared recreational sports to that of the NHL, with which members of the Winnipeg Jets and other professional teams undergo daily testing – game day or not. He says that despite the efforts of those involved with recreational sports, it is still some time away from its return.
“We will be able to return to that, just not at this point,” Roussin said. “We want to get people back to this recreation as soon as we can. So we will do that, but just right now we still need to do things gradually. We don’t have those safeguards in other levels of play (NHL). We won’t have parents and children only going to the rink and home. They’ll be out to work or to school amongst other things and certainly wouldn’t have the ability to privately contract testing every single day.”
Some physical/mental health resources are listed below: