COVID-19 infections surge in Manitoba; province stops identifying most close contacts

·2 min read

WINNIPEG — Manitoba continued to face surging COVID-19 infections on Monday at the same time it ended its role in notifying most close contacts.

People with confirmed COVID-19 cases will be asked to tell their contacts themselves, the province's website said.

The change was made as Manitoba prepares for increasing cases due to the Omicron variant to "exceed public health contact notification resources."

In some settings, including schools, health-care facilities and personal care homes, public health workers will continue efforts with staff to inform close contacts.

The province reported 807 new COVID-19 cases and six more deaths over the last three days. On Sunday, it marked its highest single-day number since June with 333 infections. There were 200 on Monday.

The province said in a news release that nine more cases of the Omicron variant were also identified for a total of 17.

There were 137 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 27 of whom were in intensive-care units.

The provincial five-day test positivity rate was eight per cent.

Manitoba residents were preparing for tightened restrictions on gatherings and capacity to come into effect on Tuesday.

Gyms, movie theatres and restaurants — where people are required to be vaccinated — faced a limit of half capacity.

Private indoor gatherings with vaccinated people will be capped at household members plus 10 others. Gatherings with anyone unvaccinated will be limited to one household plus five guests.

Churches that require proof of vaccination will be limited to half capacity, while those that do not require vaccination status will be limited to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is less.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon has said the restrictions are necessary to curb the spread of the Omicron variant and to prevent long-term harm to overburdened hospitals.

The stricter rules are to be in place for three weeks until Jan. 11.

Also, following the province's request last week for military help, Ottawa announced Canadian Red Cross nurses will be arriving in Manitoba.

Hospitals have begun prioritizing urgent surgeries and postponing elective and non-emergent procedures. Dr. Ed Buchel, the provincial medical lead for surgery, said it was a difficult decision, but it was necessary to prepare for rising case numbers following holiday gatherings.

In particular, Buchel said, surgical staff are feeling frustrated about rural areas where vaccination rates remain much lower.

"It is frustrating for all of us," he said. "We know the vaccines are available. We know the vaccines are safe."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2021.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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