Manitoba is introducing tougher COVID-19 public health orders targeting those who are eligible for the vaccine but aren’t yet vaccinated, and areas of the province where vaccine uptake is low.
The new orders, which go into effect Tuesday, Oct. 5, will see all of Manitoba will move from yellow to orange — or restricted — on the province’s pandemic response system and come as health officials implement new patient protocols in anticipation of a coming strain on hospitals.
“Rising case counts and COVID-19 transmission in the province means we need to introduce new measures now to reduce the impact of a fourth wave of COVID-19,” said Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon.
“We must be proactive in protecting our health-care system and ensure we have hospital beds available to continue to provide care to patients in need.
Under the new rules indoor household gatherings will be limited to guests from one other household when any unvaccinated person who is eligible for the shots is on the property.
Households will also be limited to 10 guests outdoors when an unvaccinated person who is eligible is present.
Indoor public gatherings that include eligible but unvaccinated people will be capped at 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, although there will be a one-week grace period for weddings and funerals.
Across the province, outdoor public gatherings will be capped at 50 people, down from 500.
But large, gated events that require proof of vaccination like Winnipeg Blue Bomber games and concerts will be allowed to go ahead as planned, officials said.
Indoor faith-based gatherings that decide to include eligible but unvaccinated people will be limited to 25 people or 33 per cent capacity under the new orders.
And finally the orders will see retail capacity reduced to 50 per cent in the Southern Health region, where vaccination rates are lower than the rest of the province.
Chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, says most of the orders will not affect the majority of Manitobans because they are vaccinated.
He warned future changes may include requiring those eligible to be vaccinated to provide proof of vaccination to take part in indoor recreational activities.
The moves announced Friday are needed to protect health-care capacity as the province moves into the fourth wave of the pandemic, Roussin added.
He said COVID-19 hospitalizations have jumped 26 per cent in the past week with ICUs seeing a 17 per cent increase in admissions connected to the virus.
In a further effort to protect ICU capacity, health officials announced new patient protocols Friday that could see lower-acuity patients moved to facilities in other parts of the province where bed space is available.
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“Patients admitted to a hospital or health-care facility for care will be assessed for their individual care requirements and may be transferred to the most appropriate facility in Manitoba with the capacity to meet their needs,” a release from the province explains.
“This may mean patients are medically transferred at no cost to another Manitoba facility located outside their home community. This includes patients who live in Winnipeg.”
Provincial data shows of Wednesday Manitobans who are not fully vaccinated accounted for 75 per cent of new COVID-19 cases, 79 per cent of those admitted to hospital and 100 per cent of intensive care unit (ICU) admissions.
Roussin estimates roughly 400,000 Manitobans are currently unvaccinated, including those who are not yet eligible because they’re under the age of 12.
At last word 84.9 per cent of eligible Manitobans have received one shot of vaccine and 80.4 have received two doses, according to a provincial site tracking vaccination efforts.
But the site shows rates are much lower in parts of the southern health district. For instance, vaccine uptake is 41.3 per cent in Winkler and less than 25 per cent in the surrounding RM of Stanley.
Earlier this week health officials said the Southern Health region is contributing nearly half of Manitoba’s new COVID-19 cases despite making up just 15 per cent of the province’s total population.
‘It pits neighbour against neighbour’
The mayor of Winkler said the new rules are divisive and will not be effective.
“It pits neighbour against neighbour and people are becoming angry with their neighbours, which is totally unhealthy,” Martin Harder said.
“Positive information from the right sources dealing with the issue of the dangers of the virus, I think, would do an awful lot more than putting the punishment in.”
The mayor of nearby Morden, where the vaccination rate is near 70 per cent, expressed a different take and called for tougher enforcement.
“If (the province is) going to put down public health orders, we need an army of enforcement,” Brandon Burley said.
“(With) the flagrant disregard for public health and the narratives around public health, and abuse of public health officials, the province either needs to decide they’re doing nothing or they need to decide they’re doing something.”
When asked how the province plans to enforce the new rules and check on who is attending house parties and Thanksgiving dinners, Gordon said the government will work with municipalities.
She also said she hopes more people get their shots rather than risk facing fines.
“What I hope is that Manitobans will see the urgency of getting vaccinated and doing the right thing and they themselves will say ‘we are going to honour and adhere to those restrictions,'” she said.
Gordon also pointed to a provincial tip line that people can call to report rule-breakers.
Manitoba reported 78 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, with the largest number — 31 — coming from the Southern Health region.
Health officials said 61 of the latest cases had not been fully vaccinated.
–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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