Manitoba’s next round of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions is aimed at some of the same people who’ve ignored public health orders to date, experts say.
By targeting unvaccinated citizens with new restrictions, which take effect Tuesday, Manitoba is trying to win over people it hasn’t persuaded yet.
Some people will finally get vaccinated, said Michelle Driedger, a professor in community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, but not the defiant anti-vaxxers who haven’t adhered to public health orders up until this point.
“[If] you’re already not convinced or you already haven’t been following along, this isn’t going to be something that’s going to change that,” Driedger said.
“It really will boil down to whatever the restriction might be, how well is it being enforced?”
Under the new rules, private indoor gatherings are limited to only two households if any person eligible to be vaccinated has chosen not to get the shot.
As well, a limit of 10 people can gather outdoors on a private property if a willingly unvaccinated person is present. In indoor public places, only 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is lower, will be allowed in such a situation.
Driedger, whose research includes public health risk communication, said she understands the province needs new restrictions to confront the worsening pandemic. The fourth wave is being driven by unvaccinated persons, particularly in the Southern health region, where a greater proportion of people have not received a jab.
But she questions whether the measures are strong enough, considering the practicalities of enforcing activities in a private home.
She said Manitoba is relying on people, particularly homeowners, to do the right thing.
“In events where maybe you don’t know what everybody’s vaccination status is, now you actually will have to inquire to make sure that people are all following the rules,” Driedger said.
“It really does create a bit more of a divisive line in communities where vaccine [uptake] is already quite low.”
Faith leaders as enforcers
She said this tension may play out in places of worship, too. The province has used some faith leaders — who may now act as an enforcer of people’s vaccination status — to try and encourage vaccinations, Driedger said. A place of worship that chooses to not check proof of immunization will be restricted to 33 per cent capacity.
The reduced capacity rules will also apply to weddings and funerals where unvaccinated people are present, though those rules will only take effect on Oct. 12
Gordon Pennycook, assistant professor of behavioural studies at the University of Regina, said some Manitobans will be put into an uncomfortable position.
Consider a Thanksgiving gathering where the majority of family members are vaccinated, he said. “If there’s one or two family members who haven’t been vaccinated and who may not care about the restrictions, the question then becomes, ‘Do they get to come to Thanksgiving or not?'”
“That’s going to force conversations between people and choices about whether to get together at all,” Pennycook said.
These discussions will be a form of peer pressure for some vaccine-hesitant persons.
Some people have formed an identity around their vaccine defiance, Pennycook said, “but a lot of people just would prefer not to make being vaccinated a central part of their lives.”
Not as toothless as you think: professor
The university professor accepts Manitoba’s regulations will likely be tough to enforce, but said the public health order sends a message that large gatherings of unvaccinated individuals are banned.
“I think that it probably isn’t as toothless as people will think,” he said.
“People do take these things to heart in terms of what it indicates about what is and what is not appropriate.”
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, is banking on individual people doing their part.
The number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions “will continue to climb unless Manitobans step up, follow these restrictions and get vaccinated,” Roussin said at a briefing with reporters on Monday.
A small-town police chief isn’t too concerned by the imposition of new restrictions on private gatherings.
Marc Robichaud, who leads Ste Anne’s police force, said his community has largely followed the pandemic restrictions thus far.
As for the new rules, “we’re really relying on the fact that people know that this is the right thing to do right now,” he said.
“We’re certainly not going to be banging on doors and checking houses and doing that type of thing,” Robichaud said, adding his police force will investigate any complaints they receive.
A spokesperson with Manitoba Justice said the province’s enforcement efforts have always centered on areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates.
“The Manitoba government has endeavoured to be as responsive as possible to this evolving situation, and continues to adjust its strategies and tactics as needed,” the statement said.