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Manitoba extends COVID-19 restrictions into January; drive-in gatherings allowed

Click to play video 'Extended restrictions will ensure Manitobans are staying home this holiday season' Extended restrictions will ensure Manitobans are staying home this holiday season
Health officials say the province isn't in a position to relax the tight level red restrictions that have shuttered many businesses and limited people from gathering outside their own household. As Global's Joe Scarpelli explains, they'll be in place into the New Year, with only a few adjustments – Dec 8, 2020

The Manitoba government is extending strict COVID-19 restrictions, meaning families cannot gather together during the holiday season.

However the government is loosening some of the rules, including those previously banning drive-in events.

“We know that it’s going to be challenging going into the holiday season — that our holiday season is going to look much different than normal for many Manitobans,” said Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin.

Read more: Manitoba coronavirus hospitalizations drop as 12 new deaths, 325 new cases reported Monday

“But we know that we require these restrictions based on the current numbers, we need to keep our health-care system open for everyone who needs it.”

The latest round of public health orders go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and will remain in place until at least early January, Roussin said Tuesday.

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The new rules will be similar to those that have been in place since mid-November, but changes will allow for drive-in events like religious services and the Red River Ex’s annual drive-through light show, as long as only members of the same household are in the vehicle, and no one leaves their cars.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Manitoba extends bridge grant to home-based businesses' Coronavirus: Manitoba extends bridge grant to home-based businesses
Coronavirus: Manitoba extends bridge grant to home-based businesses – Dec 8, 2020

Roussin warned the loosening of the rules around drive-in events could be restricted again if enforcement officers find the rules are being broken or contact tracing links too many cases to the events.

“This was one of the measures that we had been contemplating lifting as soon as somewhat reasonable,” he said.

“We’re going to watch this very closely and if adherence isn’t very good then we could change course on that.”

Read more: Word on extension of Manitoba coronavirus restrictions coming next week, Roussin says

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The move follows a failed attempt by a Winnipeg church to overturn the order. Springs Church, which had been fined for parking-lot services, asked the Court of Queen’s Bench last weekend to suspend the ban but was rejected.

The new rules will also allow thrift stores to open and sell non-essential items — something still banned for larger retails under the orders.

Roussin said thrift stores will need to comply under the same capacity restrictions in place for all stores.

He says the changes come based on feedback from Manitobans that said lower-income families had been negatively affected with the stores forced to close.

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The orders will also add new items to the list of essential items allowed for sale at all stores, including school supplies and cultural and religious items such as menorahs, Christmas decorations. and wrapping paper.

The Winnipeg Jets will also be allowed to practise for a planned National Hockey League season this winter.

Read more: First coronavirus vaccine shots could be doled out in Canada next week

Roussin said acupuncturists and manual osteopathy practices will be allowed to operate under the adjusted orders, which also clear up the rules around foodbanks and other charities, which he said are allowed to prepare food and come together to prepare and distribute hampers.

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The entire province has been under tightened restrictions since Nov. 12, which include a five-person cap on public gatherings and the mandatory closure of bars, concert venues and non-essential retail stores. It also forbids people from having house guests, with some exceptions.

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Coronavirus: Pallister announces Moderna to send additional doses of its vaccine to Manitoba – Dec 8, 2020

Roussin says Manitoba’s ongoing high number of daily COVID-19 cases and their effect on the health- care system mean most of the restrictions will remain in place.

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Public gatherings remain limited to five. People are not allowed to have visitors in their homes, with some exceptions for things such as health care services. Businesses will continue to be required to sell non-essential items only online or via curbside pickup. Restaurants remain limited to delivery and takeout.

“Our (COVID-19) numbers are still too high. This is not the time to let up,” Roussin said.

Read more: Steinbach-area church holds drive-in service, breaking public health orders again

The current health orders are set to expire Friday at midnight and Roussin said an exact date on when the new orders expire has not yet been set.

Roussin has said he hoped to have seen a larger decrease in daily case counts and hospitalization rates under the current restrictions.

But modelling numbers released by the province last week show the measures appear to have only levelled off surging case numbers.

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Under the worst-case outlined in the modelling, health officials said Manitoba could have seen 1,055 new cases a day by Dec. 6, had the restrictions not been put into place.

Instead, daily case numbers have usually ranged between 300 and 500 since Nov. 12, with a handful of days seeing case counts below 300.

Read more: Manitoba business grant program open for applications: Pallister

As well as the extended restrictions, the province announced Tuesday it will be expanding a support program for businesses launched last month.

The Manitoba Bridge Grant, originally set up to provide $5,000 upfront to businesses, not-for-profits and charities forced closed by COVID-19 restrictions, will now be opened up to include home-based businesses like event planners, photographers, artists and tradespeople, the province now says.

New cases, deaths reported Tuesday

On Tuesday, Manitoba’s daily coronavirus numbers fell compared to recent days, with 245 new cases reported and 13 new deaths reported.

A total of 420 people have died in the province from COVID-19 since March and the province has recorded 19,376 cases.

The latest deaths include:

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  • a man in his 40s from the Winnipeg health region;
  • a man in his 70s from the Winnipeg health region, linked to the outbreak at the Charleswood Care Centre;
  • a woman in her 80s from the Winnipeg health region, linked to the outbreak at Charleswood Care Centre;
  • a woman in her 80s from the Winnipeg health region, linked to the outbreak at Charleswood Care Centre;
  • a man in his 80s from the Winnipeg health region, linked to the outbreak at the Charleswood Care Centre;
  • a woman in her 80s from the Winnipeg health region;
  • a man in his 80s from the Southern Health–Santé Sud health region, linked to the outbreak at Greendale Estates;
  • a woman in her 90s from the Southern Health–Santé Sud health region, linked to the outbreak at Rest Haven Care Home;
  • a woman in her 90s from the Winnipeg health region, linked to the outbreak at the Holy Family Personal Care Home;
  • a woman in her 90s from the Winnipeg health region;
  • a woman in her 90s from the Winnipeg health region, linked to the outbreak at Park Manor Care Home;
  • a man in his 90s from the Winnipeg health region, linked to the outbreak at Misericordia Health Centre’s Transitional Unit; and
  • a woman in her 100s from the Prairie Mountain Health region, linked to the outbreak at Fairview Personal Care Home.

Read more: Coronavirus: 20% of Manitobans plan to visit family, friends this holiday season

On  Monday health officials reported 325 new infections and 12 additional deaths from the virus.

Tuesday’s new cases include 126 in the Winnipeg Health region, 33 cases in the Southern Health region, 29 cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region, 23 cases in the Northern Health region, and 34 cases in the Interlake-Eastern Health region.

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Provincial data shows there are currently 5,379 active cases of COVID-19 across the province, although that number may still be inflated due to an ongoing backlog in case and contact tracing, Roussin has said.

Click to play video 'Manitoba pastor calls on Springs Church to stop fighting coronavirus restrictions' Manitoba pastor calls on Springs Church to stop fighting coronavirus restrictions
Manitoba pastor calls on Springs Church to stop fighting coronavirus restrictions – Dec 7, 2020

On Monday — when nearly 4,000 active cases were taken off the list — Roussin said health officials are working at getting caught up on the backlog with help from a recently started automatic calling system.

There are currently 311 people in hospital with the virus, including 38 in intensive care, according to provincial data, and the test positivity rate is now 13.3 per cent provincially and 13.9 per cent in Winnipeg.

Read more: More Manitobans buying alcohol during pandemic: MBLL

Health officials said a new outbreak has been declared at Grace Hospital unit 3 South in Winnipeg Tuesday, but previously announced outbreaks at Ashern-Lakeshore General Hospital in Ashern and Headingley Correctional Centre in Headingley have been declared over.

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Roussin said COVID-19 tests were done on 2,245 Manitobans Monday, bringing the total number of lab tests done since early February to 375,667.

The province says a new walk-in testing site will open in Winnipeg Dec. 14 at the Garrick Centre at 330 Garry Street. The new site will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and will replace the mobile testing site at 1181 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, which is set to close Dec. 11.

–With files from the Canadian Press

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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