Now exactly a month away from Christmas Eve, Manitoba’s Premier expects regular holiday gatherings will either be strongly discouraged or else prohibited entirely.
“This is the year to adapt,” stated Brian Pallister during a press conference this morning. “This is the year to not get together with anyone apart from those in your household.”
In insisting that COVID-19 health and safety measures take precedence over annual festivities, the premier says he has been called several nasty names including ‘The Grinch’, but the backlash has done little to sway his resolve.
As the number of people infected with the coronavirus continues to rise, Pallister urges his fellow residents to buck traditions, meet digitally instead, and focus their hopes instead on gathering for the holiday season in 2021.
“I am not trying to deprive people of a wonderful Christmas, I am trying to ask people to define Christmas differently,” he says. “The way we should define our holiday season this year is that we are doing our very very best to keep all of our family around so we can all be together next Christmas.”
He continues. “This is a different way to celebrate, it is not an easy way to celebrate, it is not the normal way to celebrate, but it is the right way to celebrate and it is the way we will have to do it.”
Last week, Quebec Premier François Legault announced that his government was loosening rules between December 24 and 27, by allowing his residents to gather in larger groups of ten, be they family members or friends. Legault says the decision was founded on the principle that “family is the heart of who we are, it is at the heart of our nation.” The policy has instigated controversy among Quebecers and criticism among health experts.
Pallister today reacted to Legault’s move: “What the Quebec Premier has decided to announce on Christmas, I think it is dangerous.”
Under the critical level of the Pandemic Response System, as Manitoba is, groups of more than five people are forbidden from meeting together. Pallister further clarified the ruling today noting that anyone who enters a home that is not their own may be penalized.
“It will be incredibly difficult to enforce,” he admits. “But it is a finable offence to bring in people from outside unless you are in that exceptional category.” That exceptional category includes individuals who need care or those living completely on their own.
Unwilling to guess at whether or not current mandates will remain in place after the scheduled end date on December 11, Pallister recommends that families and close friends already prepare not to see each other in person as public health will remain the government’s top priority.
“Ultimately, the best holiday gift that we could give each other is life itself.”
In a press conference only a few hours after Pallister’s, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer had much the same message, though perhaps a touch more optimistic.
“As things look right now, with this test-positivity rate, we could not advise that people have gatherings outside of their household,” reiterated Dr. Brent Roussin. “We are a ways away from the holiday season and it is quite possible that we could see a good trend by then where we might be able to provide different advice. As Manitobans step up, we may be able to alter some of those recommendations but we will certainly not be at a holiday season that is like any other. We are really going to try and get these numbers down to see if we can have some semblance of a holiday season outside of our household.”
On December 11, the status of Manitoba will be reassessed and the government will decide whether or not to extend what Pallister calls “the most stringent measures in the country”. Unless circumstances change significantly, he says it is probable the province will enter the New Year under the present restrictions.