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COVID-19: Manitoba needs ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown, critical care doctors say

Winnipeg intensive care doctors say a temporary circuit breaker lockdown is needed as the province grapples with an increasing COVID-19 testing backlog and rising daily case counts. (AP Photo/Kyle Green,File)

Manitoba’s latest public health orders will be largely ineffective in containing the Omicron COVID-19 variant, and at this point the best course of action is a temporary “circuit-breaker” lockdown.

That’s the message from intensive care physicians in Winnipeg, who say the province appears to be taking a gamble the latest variant will have less severe health outcomes.

“If you’re serious about controlling Omicron, basically the only thing you can do now is to have a circuit-breaker shutdown for two weeks, and [officials are] not going to seriously consider that until there’s absolute chaos in the hospitals,” says Dr. Daniel Roberts, a critical care physician at Health Sciences Centre.
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“These restrictions all through this pandemic in Manitoba have basically been based on political calculations. They have never made much sense in terms of sequencing to try to contain a pandemic.”

The new orders — which took effect at midnight Tuesday — mean capacity is reduced to 50 per cent or 250 persons, whichever is less, at a wide array of public areas.

Liquor sales at licensed establishments must also cease at 10 p.m. daily.

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Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, who is also an intensive care physician in Winnipeg and a professor at the Max Rady College of Medicine, says he and others on the front lines of health care view the latest orders as “very, very light” compared to what is needed.

“Even if Omicron numbers show the virus is less virulent, the sheer number of people being infected means that estimates between five and 10 ICU (intensive care unit) admissions a day, that is not doable,” Dr. Jocobsohn says.

“It wasn’t doable in the third wave, so why would one gamble versus taking the unpopular decision?”

As unpopular as widespread lockdowns may be, Dr. Jacobsohn says the decision is apolitical, and the alternative could potentially mean bulking up ICU capacity at the expense of other areas of the health-care system.

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“Wouldn’t it be prudent to say, ‘Based on the history we’ve had here in the last several months, that the prudent thing to do is pull back and really ratchet down for a few weeks until we know what the exact number of patients in the ICU are going to be?” Dr. Jacobsohn says.

In response to a reporter’s question about why the health orders aren’t any stronger, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, on Monday said they are trying to strike a “balanced response.”

“We have limits on many of the higher-risk activities, and then remember, earlier this month we put very significant restrictions prior to the large uptick in Omicron, so we are adding restrictions already onto a restricted province here. So we have many layers of protection already,” Dr. Roussin said.

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But Dr. Roberts and Dr. Jacobsohn agree a dramatic testing backlog — which Dr. Roussin said had grown to some 11,500 samples — coupled with reduced contact tracing, and an exponentially-increasing number of daily cases, mean more stringent action is necessary.

“If the intent is to slow down the progression of the virus, if you can’t contain outbreaks, if you don’t have testing capacity … the only thing you can do is reduce the chances of person-to-person transmission,” Dr. Roberts says.

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“And that means basically staying at home, closing the businesses down, going back to curbside pickup, etc.”

In the absence of an official lockdown, Dr. Roberts urged people to do their best to limit interactions with others.

“I would not go out to stores. I’d order my groceries online or do curbside pickup,” Dr. Roberts says.

“This is a very contagious strain, and if you think you’re safe because you’re double vaccinated, you should think again. If you got your second dose between mid-January and mid-July, odds are that your immunity has fallen 50 to 60 per cent.”

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COVID-19: Manitoba introduces new restrictions reducing size of gatherings in public spaces

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