Many provinces indicated Wednesday they would not rush to follow the lead of Alberta and Saskatchewan by quickly dropping COVID-19 vaccination passports and indoor mask requirements.

"Just because one province is doing something doesn't mean we're necessarily going to do that," said Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba's deputy chief public health officer.

Manitoba is hoping to lift all restrictions by spring, but Atwal said the plan will be dictated by science — not the decisions of other jurisdictions or demands from protesters.

Easing public health orders in Ontario will also be done with caution and only when it's safe to do so, said Health Minister Christine Elliott. She added that proof of vaccination and masks will be required for some time.

"We are not in the clear yet,” Elliott said.

Ontario is tracking on a best-case projection, she said, after gradually lifting some restrictions on businesses and social gatherings late last month. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals Wednesday was down 195 from Tuesday to 2,059.

Saskatchewan and Alberta announced Tuesday their intentions to get rid of vaccination passports, mandatory masks and nearly all other COVID-19 rules in the coming weeks.

The proof-of-vaccination requirement, known in Alberta as the restriction exemption program, and capacity limits at most venues ended Wednesday. And starting Monday, masks will no longer be mandatory in all settings for children under 12 and for all students in schools.

Saskatchewan plans to scrap its vaccine passport policy on Monday and end nearly all public health orders, including indoor mask mandates, by the end of the month.

'Not in the clear yet': Most provinces stick with gradual COVID-19 reopening plans. #CDNPoli #Covid19

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, has said hospitals across the country remain heavily strained. "We're not out of the woods," Tam said on social media Tuesday.

Health officials across the country, saying it's time to learn to live with COVID-19, have been announcing gradual reopening strategies.

"You're tired. We are too. Everyone is tired of COVID," Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said Wednesday. "But COVID has proven to be a formidable opponent."

Houston announced some restrictions around gathering sizes, capacity limits and sports events are to be loosened next week. He said that's possible because less than 10 per cent of eligible Nova Scotians are unvaccinated and the province is leading the country in booster shots.

He said the move isn't because of protests in Ottawa and elsewhere against vaccine mandates and other public health orders.

Federal ministers again urged protesters to stop blocking roads and border crossings, and to cease incessant honking.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said every Canadian is frustrated that the pandemic has persisted and normal life is still not achievable. But, he said, health measures to keep people safe have always been informed by advice from public health experts.

"There is a point in the future, that day is coming, where we will be back to life as normal," Mendicino said.

"In the meantime, we can all be exhausted about it. We can be fatigued about it, (but) that can never be a justification to somebody going beyond the boundaries of the law and creating an illegal blockade and hurting Canadians."

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs pointed out that provincial and territorial governments are all following through on plans to lift COVID-19 measures, albeit some faster than others. Soon most areas of the country will have minimal restrictions, he said.

"You kind of wonder, ‘What is the point at this stage?" Higgs said about the protesters.

British Columbia is still working through the details of its public health orders and Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, said more information will be provided next week about the "gradual process" of lifting restrictions. She said COVID-19 remains a severe illness and British Columbia's resources are still stretched thin.

The latest COVID-19 wave hit the territories later than the rest of Canada, said Dr. André Corriveau, the deputy chief public health officer for the Northwest Territories. That means any opening plans will also lag behind, he added.

"The goal is still there," Corriveau said. "The intent is that the public health emergency will be gone in the next couple of months."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2022.

— With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg

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