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Comments from Manitoba’s health minister on a letter to Premier Brian Pallister signed by more than 200 doctors in Manitoba came under fire Tuesday night.

The letter, dated November 1, expresses deep concern for the state of the province when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Over the last several weeks, we have watched our COVID pandemic spiral out of control, with a test positivity rate of 8.9% and mathematical modelling from jurisdictions around the world showing we are in grave peril,” the letter reads. “In twelve weeks, our numbers have become the worst in the country, the outbreak at Parkview Place had claimed 22 lives as of October 31, and our existing ICU beds are now full.”

On Tuesday, Health Minister Cameron Friesen questioned the letter’s true intent.

“I wonder at the motivation to produce that letter, to generate it at a time when they knew it would have maximum effect in causing chaos in the system, when Manitobans need most to understand that the people in charge have got this," said Friesen during a session with a legislative committee on budget matters.

In a statement Tuesday night, official opposition NDP leader Wab Kinew said:

"That the Minister of Health would question the motivations of Manitoba doctors-- who put their lives on the line every day--is more than disrespectful. It's an attempt to undermine confidence in our front line health workers and it is yet another comment from this Minister that disregards public health science. Manitoba doctors and nurses are motivated by saving lives. The doctors who signed this letter took a serious professional risk to speak out against government inaction because of their commitment to protecting Manitobans. Instead of attacking them, the Minister and the PC Premier would do well to listen to their advice."

CALLING FOR AN APOLOGY

Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, a cardiac anesthesiologist and intensive care physician who signed the letter, said he was “appalled” by the video.

“I think the vast majority of docs who signed that are flabbergasted that our minister of health would suggest that people who are on the frontlines, they’re caring for patients, to suggest there is some other motive involved in speaking up,” he said.

“Because politics aside, it’s clear to everyone that we have a problem in our province, and without apportioning blame, something has gone wrong somewhere in that numbers are skyrocketing.”

Jacobsohn added that those who work in the ICU expect a “tsunami” of cases in the next 10 days.

“I think the docs would have been remiss and I think morally in a situation that would be untenable not to speak up,” he said.

“I think they would be impugned if the situation was found to not be able to deal with it.”

Jacobsohn added the doctors had no ulterior motives, and Friesen’s comments are “regrettable.”

“I think the comments are such that the people that are on the frontlines deserve an apology,” he said.

Jacobsohn said the doctors involved with the letter were a grassroots group of people that felt they needed to speak up.

“These are decent, honest people who simply wished to speak up. There was no timing, nobody planned this letter weeks ago and had it sitting in the top drawer,” he said.

“It came out while there’s clearly a huge problem in our city.”

- With files from CTV’s Kayla Rosen and Josh Crabb.