Manitoba is asking the federal government for dozens of health-care workers to help fight rising COVID-19 numbers.
Premier Brian Pallister said he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday morning and asked for up to 50 critical care nurses and 20 respiratory therapists.
He is also seeking up to 50 contact tracers from Statistics Canada.
“This is going to be, we hope, a temporary thing and a short-term thing, but the sooner we get a little bit of backup help here the better,” Pallister said.
Pallister said officials from the two levels of government have been discussing the issue for about a week and the prime minister was supportive of the idea.
“I thanked him for that and, clearly, we’re not asking for anything that others haven’t already needed,” he said, referring to help received in some provinces hit earlier by the third wave. Dozens of health professionals from the military and Canadian Red Cross were deployed to Ontario and Nova Scotia last month.
The prime minister’s office confirmed receiving Manitoba’s request for additional federal assistance and committed to working with the province to provide additional supports.
Manitoba is in the grip of a third pandemic wave and has record numbers of new cases and people in intensive care.
There were 594 more cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths reported in Manitoba Friday — the province’s second-highest-ever daily COVID-19 case count. The highest at 603 was reported Thursday.
The five-day test positivity rate has grown steadily in recent weeks and stood at 14.1 per cent provincially and 16.1 per cent for Winnipeg. Five intensive care patients were sent to Ontario to free up bed space this week.
“All of our resources are being stretched,” said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer. Incoming health-care workers would be immediately deployed to three hospitals in Winnipeg that have intensive-care units, she added.
‘This isn’t the time to tinker with public health orders’
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman also had a meeting with Trudeau Friday.
During a press conference to discuss the meeting, the mayor called out the province’s handling of the pandemic.
“I’m disappointed that, once again in the third wave, we’re in a position in which the provincial government is reacting to higher case counts instead of taking the proactive measures weeks ago that I and others, including doctors, had been calling for,” said Bowman.
“This isn’t the time to tinker with public health orders. We need strong proactive leadership and we’ve needed it for some time.”
The mayor reiterated calls to increase fines for people who break public health orders, including a $100,000 fine for people who organize rallies against public health rules.
He also said non-essential retail businesses should be closed. Stores are allowed to remain open at 10 per cent capacity.
The Opposition New Democrats said the government should have expanded intensive care capacity long ago.
“The government could have been proactive and trained people, hired people, done the preparation throughout the first and second wave of the pandemic,” NDP leader Wab Kinew said.
Siragusa said the third wave has been unique because patients are younger and require longer stays at the hospital.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, said the health system is at a critical juncture and he implored people to get their vaccinations.
A review found there were 331 people hospitalized for COVID-19 between May 1 and 16. Of those, 82 per cent had not received a vaccine. Of those who were vaccinated, the majority had been infected before or within 14 days of getting a dose.
Almost half were people under the age of 50, Atwal said.
Atwal added that many people had not even been tested for COVID-19 before they were ending up with severe complications in the hospital.
In response to the climbing case load and swelling ICUs, the Progressive Conservative government tightened restrictions for the fourth time in the past month by banning virtually all social gatherings, even outdoors starting Saturday morning. The additional rules will remain in effect until at least Wednesday.
Meanwhile, officials say all Indigenous people in Manitoba can start booking an appointment for a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on May 24.
Dr. Marcia Anderson, who’s the public health lead for First Nations, says First Nations people have made up 40 to 60 per cent of the admissions to intensive care during the second and third waves.
“Getting fully vaccinated will provide a greater level of protection to you as an individual, to your loved ones and to your community.”
Since March 2020, 1,022 Manitobans with COVID-19 have died and 47,504 people have contracted the virus. Of the province’s deaths, 709 have been reported in the Winnipeg Health region.
–With files from Shane Gibson and Elisha Dacey
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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