On Thursday November 5, I spoke in the Legislative Assembly on a Grievance. The speech was focused on my very strong support for the hundreds of medical doctors and PhD scientists and researchers who have come forward to raise their high level of concern for the extent of the current COVID-19 pandemic in Manitoba.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I rise today on a grievance.
I speak today to say in the strongest possible terms that I support the hundreds of doctors and other health professionals who have signed a letter to the Premier (Mr. Pallister) calling for much more substantial measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Manitoba.
The Minister of Health was wrong to say the doctors are trying to cause chaos. The doctors say very clearly that we in Manitoba are in grave peril. These words by the doctors and their colleagues were not chosen lightly.
We have an extreme emergency. The words of the doctors and other health professionals were not part of a political attack. There are, I am sure, among the many hundreds who have signed the letter, those of all political persuasions. They speak not from a political perspective, but from the perspective of health professionals who care deeply about the health and well-being of Manitobans. In fact, they have dedicated their lives to it.
The government says it has lots of capacity, but as the doctors point out, we may be short of ICU specialists and others. Not all doctors have the needed expertise to work in ICUs. Even physicians who are specialists in internal medicine may not be immediately able to switch into working in ICUs. There are limits in terms of personnel who have the expertise to safely expand our ICU capacity and the personnel that are needed for that expansion.
There is also a concern that a number of people who work in our ICUs may get infected, and we have already seen one–Dr. Mooney–and we have seen his case; and the question is if there are others, it is a concern that–whether we will have the extra capacity in staffing if a number of critical people like Dr. Mooney become infected.
In personal-care homes we have already seen the drastic shortages in staff because staff have become infected or need to quarantine. As hundreds of doctors have pointed out, there needs to be an expansion of the public health measures to reduce virus trans-mission. We must have a much larger and more effective lockdown. The Southern Health authority, the Northern Health authority and the Interlake-Eastman authority all have rates of new cases per 100,000 people which are similarly high as the numbers are also high in Winnipeg.
In Winnipeg the seven-day average for the last seven days is 27 per 100,000. In the Southern Health it is 23 per 100,000. In Interlake-Eastman it is 24 per 100,000. In the Northern Health authority it is 30 per 100,000. Only in the Prairie Mountain Health area is it down at 5.5. And so Prairie Mountain could be an exception, but the rest of the province needs to be in code red.
What happens in the North affects people in Winnipeg because we may be needing to provide the ICU capacity in Winnipeg for people in the North. Indeed, as we saw in an earlier pandemic when we had many cases in northern First Nations, it strained the ICU capacity in Winnipeg.
We need stronger measures to reduce the potential for transmission all over the province and we need to act particularly in areas where people gather or where there's a high risk of transmission. Just as the doctors have said, there needs to be a bigger lockdown, a bigger shutdown –a major effort to decrease the transmission.
At the same time, it's critical that there be support to Manitoba businesses who are struggling and to help individuals who are in great difficulty.
We must commit to and have the capacity to do testing without long waits for COVID-19. We must have the capacity to analyze and report the test results within 24 hours and we must have the capacity to complete the contact tracing within 24 hours and assemble and report results rapidly so this information is quickly available. Anything less than this is not good enough because by day four people can be infectious and pass the virus on to others. Only when testing and contract tracing can be done reliably and rapidly can these be used effectively to control the pandemic. As the doctors say, and I, too, hear, there are far too many stories of this process taking far too long.
The doctors speak of more consultation being needed with vulnerable communities. First Nations need to be involved in decision making. They are critically involved in the North and as we see with the outbreak at the Keeyask dam right at the moment.
We need to have detailed plans to ensure that individuals who are homeless, individuals who are immuno-compromised are adequately protected.
In personal-care homes we have had horrific outbreaks at two personal-care homes: Parkview and the Maples. There have been problems at these homes dating back many years. The government and the government before have under staffed these homes and put people at risk. We need not only to boost the staffing levels to boost the number of people working in homes and providing care, but we also need regular testing. In other jurisdictions where there are high rates, all homes are being tested–all staff, all residents–up to twice a week. We need to be doing something much more vigorous, particularly in personal-care homes where there are already cases, or when there is a first case in a personal-care home. We must recognize that there are times when people will be infectious but asymptomatic and the people in the personal-care home are too at risk to take the risk that they are not picked up.
We need more accountability and transparency in Estimates and in question period. The Minister of Health has worked hard to avoid giving many answers. The government needs to be much more fully sharing details: details of the structure of the incident command centre, making sure that Indigenous groups and physicians are involved. I looked today at the Ottawa city reporting; it is much more detailed than we are giving. We could be doing much more and much better in reporting to all Manitobans.
It is a tragic part of the COVID-19 pandemic that far too many cases are to be found in government funded or operated institutions: personal-care homes, hospitals, correctional institutions. The government needs to stop blaming others and ensure that the government is doing all it can, and in particular that the recommendations of hundreds of doctors and health professionals are followed.
There will certainly in due course be inquests and a public inquiry into the government's conduct of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We in the the Liberal Party have called for the resignation of the Minister of Health. Sadly, he has lost the confidence of many in Manitoba; the minister was not prepared for the second wave of the pandemic.
My advice to the minister is this: if the minister wants to save his job as Minister of Health, he needs to apologize to the doctors he's attacked and he needs to implement immediately the changes the doctors recommend if we are to decrease the number of new COVID-19 cases and to reduce the likelihood of exceeding the pandemic capability in our ICUs, the capacity we have in health care.
I say this to the Minister of Health, who I have worked with in this Legislature for some time, and I think it's time that he listened and acted, and I ask you to do this, Mr. Minister.
Thank you. Merci. Miigwech.