Manitoba health officials are warning tighter restrictions are likely as COVID-19 cases counts continue to rise and the province added 127 new infections Friday.
Health officials say they are seeing more cases involving variants of concern and more cases involving younger people from their teens to their 40s.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, the deputy chief public health officer, says he is also seeing more large gatherings and new restrictions could be imposed in the coming days.
“What we introduce will depend on the numbers that we’re seeing and the epidemiology of the cases over the next short period of time,” he said.
“In the meantime we ask that you do your part to follow the current orders, limit your close contacts, stay home as much as possible, and help keep your fellow Manitobans safe.”
Atwal says the third wave has arrived in Manitoba and could become severe.
“We don’t like what we’re starting to see,” he said, adding the province’s five-day test positivity rate has jumped nearly two per cent over the last two weeks.
“We’ve been in this place before, we can see what is coming.”
As of Friday Manitoba’s test positivity rate was sitting at 5.1 per cent and the number was 4.9 in Winnipeg, where Atwal said health officials are seeing a disturbing rise in cases involving variants of concern.
He said variants of concern made up nearly 40 per cent of the new case reported in Winnipeg over the first week of April and modeling shows the province is on track to see the number of cases due to a variant of concern double in the next 10 days.
Officials reported 57 new variants of concern Friday, bringing Manitoba’s total to 704. Of those, 315 variant cases remain active, according to the province’s website.
The news comes a day after health officials confirmed the first case of the COVID-19 P.1 variant in the province. On Friday Atwal said the case is to related non-essential travel outside of Manitoba.
The variant, first detected in Brazil, was discovered in the case of a person from the Interlake-Eastern health region, the province said in a release Thursday.
The P.1 variant is believed to be more transmissible and capable of evading prior immunogenicity — or reinfect people who have previously been infected with the original, or “wild,” type of COVID-19.
The vast majority of the province’s confirmed variants of concern — 616 — are the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
Atwal said the B.1.1.7 variant is quickly becoming the dominant strain in Manitoba as health officials warned of recent potential exposures to the more-contagious variant at two Thompson businesses.
The first possible exposure was reported at the Thompson Walmart between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. April 6. The second was reported at the Thompson Safeway between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. April 10.
Anyone who was at the stores and is now experiencing symptoms should go for testing immediately, health officials said.
On Thursday the government said it will soon expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to include first responders across the province and all adults living in communities most at risk of the coronavirus.
Earlier in the day Friday Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province’s vaccine task force, said details will be released next week, but the plan is to include front-line police and firefighters and others working in “specific public facing roles” in at-risk communities, even if they don’t live there.
“We want to focus on jobs where people are in these high risk areas, are exposed to, or potentially exposed to the virus more than other people,” she explained.
The province expanded its vaccine eligibility Friday by dropping the minimum age requirement by two years — to 37 and up for First Nations persons and 57 and up for others.
No new deaths Friday
There were no new deaths connected to COVID-19 reported in Manitoba Friday, leaving the province’s death toll at 955.
The latest cases reported Friday include 75 cases in the Winnipeg Health region, five cases in the Southern Health region, six cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region, 29 cases in the Northern Health region, and 12 cases in the Interlake-Eastern Health region.
Since March 2020 Manitoba has now reported 35,815 cases of COVID-19. Of those, 1,551 remain active, according to provincial health data.
There were 130 people in hospital as a result of novel coronavirus as of Friday morning, and 34 patients in ICU connected to the virus, Atwal said.
New outbreaks have been declared at Middlechurch Personal Care Home in Winnipeg and the Flin Flon Personal Care Home in Flin Flon, while an outbreak previously at Unit B5 at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg has ended, health officials said.
Laboratory testing numbers show 1,954 tests were completed Thursday, bringing the total number of lab tests completed since February 2020 to 615,906
Manitoba announced 153 new cases and one additional death from the virus on Thursday.
— 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.
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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