Health officials are pleading with Manitobans to limit their contacts over the holidays as the province is set to announce a record-setting daily case count on Christmas Eve.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said Friday the province would announce nearly 750 new COVID-19 cases later in the day.
“We’ve set a daily record so Manitobans need to prepare,” Roussin said at a Friday morning press conference.
“Holiday plans need to change. If you’re planning on going out, we need people to reconsider that.
“If you’re going to three or four gatherings this weekend, this should be down to one.”
The province ultimately announced 742 new cases of COVID-19 Friday for a total of 3,626 active cases. The province also announced one additional death linked to the virus.
Roussin has previously said Manitoba could see as many as 1,000 cases a day by early January as the highly-contagious Omicron variant spreads across the province.
On Friday he said anyone experiencing cold- or flu-like symptoms should assume they have the Omicron variant and isolate.
“Omicron is here (and) rapidly spreading,” he said.
Four new cases of the Omicron variant were reported Friday, for a total of 22, but Roussin said there are likely far more cases of the variant in the province.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon said she strongly recommends Manitobans limit their close contacts over the holidays.
“Manitobans must — and I stress must — follow the current public health orders, follow the fundamentals and get vaccinated,” she said.
“This includes getting your third dose as soon as you are eligible.”
Despite the dire warnings, no new restrictions were announced Friday.
“We need to pivot quickly with the messaging,” Roussin instead said.
“We’re sending out some very clear messaging that holiday plans need to change.”
“If you were planning on going out we need people to reconsider that, to limit that.”
Roussin did say Mantiobans “do need to prepare, in the coming days, to be hearing about more type of restrictions.”
“Things like large gatherings, Mantiobans need to prepare that next week we’re not going to be having large gatherings,” he said.
Under current restrictions that went into effect Tuesday, private indoor gatherings with vaccinated people are limited to household members plus 10 other people, while gatherings that include anyone who is unvaccinated are limited to one household plus five guests.
Gyms, movie theatres and restaurants — which have all required people to show proof of vaccination — are limited to half capacity. There’s no cap on retail stores under current orders.
On Thursday, the Manitoba government said near record-setting COVID-19 case counts are likely an under-count due to a backlog in testing.
Officials announced 556 new infections Thursday, among the highest one-day jumps in cases ever reported in Manitoba, according to records kept by Global News.
But in a release later in the day, the province said it expects current case counts “are an under-reporting of the virus across the province” because of a backlog of more than 7,500 test specimens.
By Friday morning Roussin said the province’s testing system is at capacity and there’s a current backlog of 10,000 tests. The wait time for results is about four days.
Roussin estimated 10 per cent of the backlogged tests are positive cases.
Health officials did not hold a media briefing Thursday but in a news release the government said it is “exploring options to expand laboratory capacity to help alleviate the backlog.”
Global News and other media outlets have been reporting on long lines at Winnipeg drive-thru testing sites all week, with some people waiting hours to get a swab.
Winnipeg Police were called in to help control traffic around some testing sites Thursday, and police told Global News officers were called to reports of a dispute between two drivers at the King Edwards Street testing site Monday.
In a release later in the day Friday the province said “work continues” on making rapid tests more available and additional information “will be shared as soon as possible.”
in the meantime, health officials adjusted recommendations for third doses Friday, saying everyone 50 and over who has received a second dose five months ago is now eligible for a booster.
The recommendation for everyone under 50 remains to wait six months after their second shot.
–With files from The Canadian Press