Manitoba is extending strict public health restrictions meant to curb COVID-19 for another two weeks, but an exemption to the orders will allow the Winnipeg Jets to play their upcoming NHL games at home at Bell MTS Place.
The current public health orders, which include limits on social gatherings and store openings, were first ordered in mid-November, then extended in December with a possible end on Friday at midnight.
The government had, in recent days, indicated the restrictions were likely to continue with some measures loosened. But chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said Friday that easing off was no longer an option.
“In the last number of days, we were getting more and more cases linked to holiday gatherings, seeing more and more contacts, and it just became quite clear that we weren’t going to be in a position to substantially loosen these orders.”
In a release the province said aside from an adjustment that will allow professional hockey teams to play games and train, all other current Level Red restrictions will remain in place.
“While we are starting to bend our COVID curve in the right direction, now is not the time to let up,” said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister in a government release.
“These public health orders are necessary to halt the spread of this deadly virus and protect our most vulnerable Manitobans.
“While we recognize these restrictions are difficult, they require the co-operation and commitment by all Manitobans to make them work. I continue to urge all Manitobans to follow the fundamentals, stay safe at home and limit your close contacts as much as possible.”
All other provinces with NHL teams had already approved a plan to hold games, with strict testing requirements and without fans in the stands.
“We’ve all reviewed those protocols and … this is quite low-risk to Manitobans,” Roussin said.
‘Growing anger’ in business community
The extension means that, until Jan. 22, restaurants and bars will continue to be limited to takeout and delivery, non-essential stores will remain closed except for curbside pickup, and gyms and hair salons will remain shuttered.
Public gatherings are still limited to five people and most social gatherings inside homes — with some exceptions for people who live alone — are forbidden.
The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce said its members are suffering under the restrictions.
“It seems as though business is having to carry the weight, the cost, of the pandemic,” chamber president Loren Remillard said.
“Within the business community, there’s a growing anger.”
Statistics Canada reported Friday that Manitoba lost some 6,600 jobs between November and December and was further behind its pre-pandemic employment level than any other province.
The Manitoba government has offered some financial relief, including $5,000 grants, and has promised to reveal further aid next week. Remillard said more is needed as restrictions drag on.
The number of daily COVID-19 cases has dropped sharply since the measures were introduced, but intensive care units are running above their normal capacity and elective surgeries have been postponed.
The province says health officials will monitor daily case numbers and watch for increases due to the holiday season over the next two weeks.
Roussin said Friday the province has seen more than 355 cases and nearly 1,900 contacts linked to holiday gatherings in recent days.
“That is why we’re extending the public health orders with a minor adjustment,” he said.
“We need to continue to protect our families and friends by staying home as much as possible.”
On Friday provincial health officials announced another nine COVID-19-related deaths and said another 222 Manitobans have been infected with the virus.
Since March Manitoba has recorded 25,963 lab-confirmed cases of novel coronavirus and 726 Manitobans with COVID-19 have died.
–With files from Steve Lambert at The Canadian Press