The Manitoba government is tightening some of the province’s COVID-19 public health orders amid growing daily case counts and a concerning rise in the spread of more-contagious variants of concern.
The latest changes to the orders, which include a ban on both indoor and outdoor visits between households, kick in Wednesday and will last at least four weeks, Manitoba’s chief public health officer said Monday.
“We are at a critical point in the third wave – it is a race between the variants and vaccines, and right now the variants are winning,” said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, in a release.
“We need a few weeks in order to allow our accelerated vaccine efforts to catch up and change the course of that race. Today, we are asking Manitobans to stay close to home, significantly limit your close contacts and get your vaccine as soon as you are eligible.”
Chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin said the ban on visits between households includes certain exceptions, including allowing for one visitor for people living alone.
Under the new orders no indoor gatherings will be allowed, and outdoor gatherings will be capped at 10 people. Faith-based gatherings will be limited to 25 per cent capacity or a maximum of 10 people, and masks will now be mandatory.
Dining on patios will be restricted to groups of four people, but the province won’t be limiting those groups to members of the same household. Food courts at malls will be forced to close and retail store capacity will be cut to 25 per cent from 33 per cent, or 250 customers, whichever is lower.
The restrictions don’t change the rules around indoor dining at restaurants, which currently allow only members of the same household to sit together.
Gyms and fitness centres aren’t required to close, but patrons and staff will be required to keep three metres apart, and capacity will remain capped at 25 per cent.
Personal services will be able to continue operating at 50 per cent, but appointments will be required, Roussin said.
The rules for spectators at outdoor sports, recreation facilities, as well as dance, theatre, and music schools are also changing. Roussin said only one parent or caregiver will be allowed as a spectator per youth participant, and only when two metres separation is possible.
While dance, theatre, and music schools will be continue to be allowed to operate at 25 per cent capacity, the new rules will limit the maximum number of people allowed on site to 10 — including as spectators — again, as long as two metres of separation is maintained.
As well as the new restrictions, Roussin said enforcement efforts will also be increase, including around self-isolation requirements and more stakeholder outreach will take place in malls and other spaces where gatherings are taking place.
“Public health orders are a foundation for action, but we need all Manitobans to do a little bit more,” Roussin said in a release.
“I am also calling on business and organizational leaders to help ensure people are staying apart in their facilities, staying home if they are sick and self-isolating if they are a close contact to a case.”
The latest cases come after a weekend that saw 259 new cases Sunday and 276 cases Saturday. Since March 2020, 968 Manitobans with COVID-19 have died.
According to provincial health data there were 148 people in hospital across the province due to COVID-19 Monday, with 37 in intensive care.
The province had seen daily case counts in the double digits from February until a few weeks ago when a sharp rise started.
The percentage of people testing positive, averaged over five days, has risen as well. It stood Monday at 7.6 per cent provincially and 8.2 per cent in Winnipeg.
Roussin said younger people are being infected and hospitalized during the third wave of the pandemic.
“Cases are increasing in most age groups but are rapidly advancing in those in their 20s and 30s,” Roussin said.
The average age of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is 56 — significantly younger than last fall during the second wave.
University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan tells 680 CJOB the new restrictions don’t go far enough.
“The responsible thing to do is to close all unnecessary indoor opportunities. That means places of worship, that means bars and restaurants, it means schools, it means gyms. This thing spreads inside, so take out the indoors and move everything outdoors,” Deonandan said.
The Opposition New Democrats urged the province to speed up vaccination.
“This government needs to make sure that … every single Manitoban accessing a vaccine can do so without barrier. They can do so with ease,” NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said.
Earlier Monday, Manitoba expanded its COVID-19 vaccination priority program to include all adults who live or work in the northern health region.
Adults who live in the Seven Oaks West neighbourhood in Winnipeg can also now get a shot, as can people who work there in certain public-facing jobs, including teachers, grocery store workers and child care staff.
The province announced similar priority measures last week for three neighbourhoods in central Winnipeg.
Elsewhere in the province, the minimum age for vaccinations remains at 30 and up for First Nations people, and 40 and up for others.
The province is looking at getting vaccination clinics into workplaces to combat signs of increasing transmission on the job.
“One of the things that we’re doing is working with some of the larger workplaces ? to see whether or not we can include them in our distributed model, much like we do clinics and pharmacies,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province’s vaccination effort.
“So, setting up a system potentially _ when we have a vaccine that is fridge-stable _ being able to send it to some of the larger workplaces to do on-site immunization.”
–With files from The Canadian Press