Communities such as Gillam and The Pas are facing their own challenges as they continue to see Level Red restrictions.

Dozens of communities will remain under the strict COVID-19 restrictions in Northern Manitoba. The rest of the province will be easing many restrictions, including removing the essential goods list, on Saturday.

The Pas & District Chamber of Commerce is vocalizing their frustrations with the continued restrictions. 

“The North is a broad region, and communities within it should not be lumped together. Restrictions need to be placed on small health districts, rather than the entire region. If we can collect statistics from individual health ‘districts’, then we should be able to ease restrictions on those areas,” President Jill Wilkinson says in a statement.

Covid region mapThe area highlighted purple is the Northern Health Region in Manitoba. It covers more than half of the province. (Screenshot: Government of Manitoba)

The Pas, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and Kelsey have a combined district. In total, the communities have had 450 cases of COVID-19, with 70 of those considered active as of Thursday.

Vice President Alan McLauchlan says every day he is getting phone calls, emails and social media comments from angry residents losing money.

“I can go to Winnipeg for a hair cut now, if I choose. However, I’m not going to do that. Businesses in The Pas are suffering the consequences of these restrictions, and I suppose bad hair is not a huge sacrifice to make. I’ll just keep wearing a hat until I can see my stylist,” the chamber's office manager, Sandra Shapiro says.

The chamber is asking the Province to reconsider making a blanket call for all of Northern Manitoba.

Manitoba's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says that nothing is off the table when it comes to making the orders district-specific.

"Right now we are going to include the entire north, but take things quite seriously," Roussin says. "There certainly are concerning outbreaks in specific remote communities, but that is not it. There are cases that are dispersed throughout the northern region."

Herb Jaques, the Mayor of The Pas, says that they are disappointed the orders included their city. He says that they have worked hard to keep COVID cases down.

"We were hopeful that we would get the same treatment as southern Manitoba. The Northern Regional Health Authority is a huge, huge district. Without question, there are troubles in places like Lynn Lake and various isolated reserves, but the town of The PAs is closer to Winnipeg than Lynn Lake," the Mayor says.

Being only a six-hour drive south, many The Pas residents are used to travelling to Winnipeg for shopping. Jaques believes the easing of the restrictions is going to be an encouragement for people to go south for the weekend.

"They have put us in a difficult spot," he says. "But life goes on. As a community I can't begrudge any resident of my community, because we all have family in other places, I cannot begrudge them for heading down south and seeing family."

He says "life is short" and many are wanting to see their family after months of being apart.

Jaques says he knows many people travelled to and from Northern Manitoba despite the earlier restrictions and expects to see many Nothern Manitobans travel to Winnipeg because of the difference in restrictions. 

Dwayne Forman is the Mayor of Gillam, a town with remote access 206 kilometres north-east of Thompson. He shared a statement asking his residents to stay home as much as possible.

"The less time you spend outside your home right now, the better position you will be in to not become a case or contact of a case," Forman says. "It won't be forever, but it's important for now."

As of Thursday, the town, along with Fox Lake Cree Nation, have a combined total of 17 active cases, and nine recovered. 

Town's daycare was forced to close, resulting in Forman making a plea to the community for members to help offer childcare. During the call for help, the Mayor says that the town has been through tough times before, but is confident the community will step up. 

Forman says "we have gotten through this before. We can do it again. Stay safe. STAY HOME." 

Gillam currently has a Rapid Response Team that can test for COVID-19. Forman says they are thankful for the help and is asking his residents to continue to be careful.