Manitoba is again tightening COVID-19 restrictions and keeping some schools under remote learning into June as the province’s health care system continues to struggle under the weight of hundreds of new cases a day.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced the new orders, which go into effect Saturday, along with chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin Thursday.
The announcement means a ban on social gatherings, both indoors and out, that was due to expire Saturday will now remain in effect for another two weeks.
The same goes for a rule that requires only one person per household to enter a store or other business. The government is also planning a new crack down on shopping malls and some workplaces.
“While Manitoba case counts have somewhat improved over the past few days, our health care system is still facing critical pressures,” Pallister said.
According to a provincial release, the full orders include:
- indoor public gatherings are not permitted and visitors are not permitted on private property, except in certain circumstances;
- requirements for employers to allow employees to work from home as much as possible;
- outdoor gatherings with anyone from outside a household are not allowed and this applies to all recreation spaces including playgrounds, golf courses, parks and sports fields;
- retail businesses may only operate at 10 per cent capacity or 100 customers, whichever is fewer, and only one person per household will be allowed to enter a business, with some exceptions, such as a single parent with children or someone who requires a caregiver;
- increased requirements for malls to manage capacity and access to eliminate gatherings and ensure compliance with shopping; and
- many businesses and organizations will remain closed for in-person service, including gyms and fitness clubs, restaurants and bars, personal service businesses, museums, galleries and libraries.
Roussin also said schools in in the cities of Winnipeg and Brandon, and in the Red River Valley and Garden Valley school divisions that were moved to remote learning earlier this month will continue remotely until June 7.
Schools in Dauphin will continue remote learning until June 9, he added.
The new orders remain in effect until June 12 and also give Roussin the authority to close businesses “where there are multiple cases and transmission is a risk” the province said.
“Manitoba’s ICU numbers and hospitalizations are extremely high and are still expected to climb in this third wave,” Roussin said in a release.
“We need to stay home and work from home if possible, and only go out for essential items when absolutely necessary and do not gather with anyone outside your household.
“We recognize the next few weeks will be tough, but our health system depends on all Manitobans doing their part.”
Stores and shopping centres can remain open at 10 per cent capacity. But after hearing reports of people meeting up at malls for social purposes, the province is giving marching orders to security staff.
“These malls are directed to evict people who are gathering with others,” Roussin said.
The news comes as the province continues to see swelling hospital rates connected to COVID-19 and health officials reported 297 new cases and eight additional deaths Thursday.
To protect ICU capacity, the province started transporting critically ill COVID-19 patients to Ontario last week in order to keep critical care beds open. At least 26 patients have been sent to Ontario since May 18. Saskatchewan was to start accepting a small number starting Thursday.
Public health orders tightened for the May long weekend that had been set to expire Wednesday were extended to Saturday earlier this week.
They include a ban on gatherings, indoors or out, except among members of the same household, although there is a small exemption for people who live alone.
Those temporary orders come on top of a ban on indoor public gatherings and a 10-per cent limit on capacity at stores that have been in place for three weeks. Restaurants have been restricted to takeout and delivery, while gyms and hair salons have had to close.
Earlier this week half a dozen doctors called on the Progressive Conservative government to close non-essential businesses and enact a stay-at-home order.
The surge of COVID-19 patients and the need to reassign health-care workers have resulted in cancelled surgeries and backlogs in other areas of medical care, they said.
Provincial data Thursday showed there are now 324 people in hospital as a result of novel coronavirus, up six from the day before, and 73 patients in ICU connected to the virus. The province’s ICU numbers don’t include patients who have been transferred out of Manitoba for care.
There are currently 4,639 active COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, according to provincial numbers, and the current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 12.6 per cent provincially and 14 per cent in Winnipeg.
Pallister urged people to get vaccinated and follow the public health orders.
He also defended his government’s decision to not order a full shutdown of non-essential businesses at the start of the third wave.
“There’s another factor: that’s the willingness of people to follow the rules. That’s a key determinant in the model that public health uses to ascertain what is effective and what is not,” the premier said.
“How do you imagine the public would have been affected by introducing public health rules — when we had fewer than a hundred cases — that restricted all non-essential retail? Do you think we would have got buy-in from the public?”
—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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