Manitobans will be under new public health orders for the next three weeks due to the rising numbers of the Omicron variant.
Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin made the announcement at a hastily-scheduled press conference at the Manitoba Legislative Building Friday.
“I come today with a message I never wanted to convey,” Roussin said.
“Projections are indicating there will be much more challenge to our communities and health care systems if we do not take these steps now.”
Roussin said the new public health orders will take effect Tuesday morning and will remain in place until at least Jan. 11.
Under the orders household gatherings with all vaccinated people will be restricted to the household plus 10 guests. If an unvaccinated person is there, the gathering will be restricted to the household plus five guests. The vaccine requirements don’t include children under 12, Roussin said.
Public indoor gatherings where proof of vaccine is not required will be capped at 25 per cent capacity or 25 people, whichever is lower. Outdoor gatherings will be capped at 50 people without proof of vaccination.
Gyms, licensed premises, museums, libraries and movie theatres will be limited to 50 per cent capacity, as will large sporting venues. Guests at licensed restaurants must remain seated and a maximum of 10 people will be allowed per table.
Churches that require proof of vaccination will be limited to half capacity, while those that do not require vaccination are limited to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is fewer.
Roussin said indoor and outdoor sports tournaments will not be allowed under the rules, but games and practices can go ahead. Spectator capacity will be cut to 50 per cent though, he said.
On Wednesday Roussin released preliminary modelling that shows the number of new daily infections could more than quadruple as the Omicron variant spreads in the coming weeks — from the current level of about 200 to as much as 1,000 by early January.
While Roussin urged people to limit their contacts Wednesday, at the time, he said the province was not planning any new public health restrictions.
On Friday he said the province was seeing “very concerning numbers” with the Omicron variant.
“That’s why we need to take these actions right now,” he said.
Manitoba has so far reported eight lab-confirmed cases of the Omicron variant. Officials reported 239 new cases Friday, the province’s highest one-day jump in infections since June.
Manitoba is already struggling to keep up with the demand for intensive care beds. Provincial data indicates only a few are unoccupied, and the province is not ruling out sending patients to other provinces for treatment, as it did during the peak of the pandemic’s third wave last spring.
The Progressive Conservative government has also asked the federal government for up to 30 intensive care nurses to help with the current surge.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the new measures are needed to allow time for more people to get their third doses of vaccine.
“We need to ensure that we continue to have hospital beds available,” she said.
“This will help reduce the strain on the health-care system.”
Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew said the new restrictions were “tough news to hear so close to the holidays” but encouraged Manitobans to get vaccinated and follow the orders.
Kinew said he doubted an “emergency Friday afternoon press conference” would “inspire the confidence Manitobans need to believe their government is in control and has a plan.”
“Several things were missing from this announcement,” Kinew said in a statement.
“Particularly a commitment to bring in the military to shore up our hospitals, ramp up the booster campaign, increase rapid tests to complement masking, and other measures, and of course properly enforce these rules across the province. Now is the time to show leadership.”
–With files from The Canadian Press
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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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