500 fully vaccinated health-care workers can attend Wednesday’s Winnipeg Jets playoff game

Several hundred fully vaccinated health-care workers will be allowed in to Bell MTS Place to watch the Winnipeg Jets in their upcoming Stanley Cup playoff series.

The Jets face off against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the second-round series Wednesday night.

Provincial public health orders prohibit gatherings of any kind. But the Manitoba government will be allowing “a very limited number” of fans to root for the Jets for the first time since the NHL paused its 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said a spokesperson from the Health Department.

Via Twitter, the Winnipeg Jets announced 500 health-care workers who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will be allowed in to watch Games 1 and 2 of the series. Bell MTS Place can seat up to 16,345 fans.

The move comes as Manitoba continues to report high COVID-19 case counts and transmission rates, while hospitals try to get a handle on a record number of COVID-19 ICU patients — a couple dozen of whom have had to be transferred to other provinces.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister revealed the news at a media briefing Tuesday afternoon, after being asked by a CBC reporter if he thought having fans in the stands for Jets games would be appropriate given the current situation.

“Yeah,” he responded. “I think there will be some fans, a small number, a few, in the next Jets game.”

Pallister said fans being allowed to attend a Jets game is an optimistic sign “that we can start to get our lives back here in Manitoba.”

Fans attended the Bell Centre in Montreal to watch Game 6 between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday after the Quebec government loosened restrictions to allow 2,500 fans inside the 21,302-seat arena.

It was the first time a Canadian NHL team had fans inside their home arena since the league paused its 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario responded two days later, allowing 550 fully vaccinated health-care workers to attend Monday’s Game 7 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

‘It just doesn’t seem like the right time’

The Jets playing playoff hockey and being successful thus far is some much needed good news for the province, but Tuesday’s announcement is “tone deaf,” said Glen Drobot, a general internist who mainly works at St. Boniface and Grace hospitals in Winnipeg.

Health-care workers were among the very first groups of people prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine when rollout began in December of last year.

But Manitoba has a 12 per cent five-day COVID-19 test-positivity rate — 13.5 per cent in Winnipeg. There are 305 people in hospital due to the illness, including 109 in critical care — 76 patients are in Manitoba hospitals, 33 in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Nurses across the province are combating COVID-19 while working without a contract and there may be a strike vote looming.

Manitobans are also under the strictest provincial public health restrictions to date because of the impact of the pandemic’s third wave.

The Manitoba government and Winnipeg Jets are allowing up to 500 fully vaccinated health-care workers to attend Games 1 and 2 between the Jets and Montreal Canadiens at Bell MTS Place, which can seat up to 16,345 people. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“It just doesn’t seem like the right time, because we’re not at the end,” said Drobot. “We’re not in a period of celebration yet.”

Drobot also has questions about what defines “health-care workers” — which he says is a broad term — and how their vaccination status will be verified. He also wonders what the intention is behind allowing fully vaccinated people into the stadium, and whether it is to act as incentive for others to be vaccinated.

Letting some health-care workers watch the games in-person also feels like an extension of the “health-care heroes” concept, which, in this case, is providing a certain group of front-line workers privilege over others such as teachers and grocery store workers, he said.

Drobot said he would prefer to see a more equitable way to acknowledge those efforts.

Read more at CBC.ca