WINNIPEG - Manitoba has released a reopening plan that aims to loosen public health restrictions as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"The more of us who get vaccinated, the faster we can regain our freedoms and enjoy what we’ve lost this past year and a half,” Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday.

Pallister said his Progressive Conservative government's plan focuses on four activities that Manitobans value, three summer holiday dates and two public health responsibilities that will still have to be followed.

If certain vaccination rates are met by those dates, limits will be be loosened on gatherings, travel, shopping and dining.

"Summer is coming and the vaccines are here. It's time for Manitobans to get their freedoms back and enjoy a summer that they all want and all deserve," Pallister said.

The first immunization target is to have more than 70 per cent of Manitobans 12 and older having received a first dose and more than 25 per cent with a second dose by Canada Day.

If that happens, the province says, businesses and other facilities will be able to open at 25 per cent capacity.

Nearly 68 per cent of Manitobans have received a first dose.

Businesses will be allowed to open at half capacity if 75 per cent of people have had one dose and 50 per cent have had a second shot by the August long weekend.

The final target calls for 80 per cent of the population to have had one shot and 75 per cent with two shots by Labour Day in September. In that case, most businesses, services and facilities would be able to open with limited restrictions.

More details are to be released closer to the dates. Pallister said that doesn't mean the plans are vague, but rather avoids providing Manitobans with "false hope."

Manitoba has been under tight public health orders since a delayed third wave caused a significant surge in COVID-19 infections last month.

There were 247 new cases of COVID-19 and six more deaths Thursday. The five-day test positivity rate was 11.1 per cent provincially.

Infections have put immense pressure on Manitoba's hospitals, which has resulted in some patients being transferred to other provinces for care.

There are 316 people in Manitoba hospitals and 30 patients in other provinces. Two of them were taken Wednesday to Ontario facilities in London and Thunder Bay.

Unlike some other reopening plans across the country, Manitoba's are not tied to other COVID-19 severity indicators like test positivity rates or hospitalizations.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, said it was important to focus on what Manitobans themselves could do.

"By making an appointment to get vaccinated, you can make a difference," Roussin said.

"Let's save our summer."

Pallister on Wednesday announced a lottery with cash prizes of $100,000 to try to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Manitoba is moving ahead Saturday to allow small outdoor gatherings, but restrictions on businesses will remain in place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.

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