Manitoba releases list of areas to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination

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WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is, for the first time, targeting geographic COVID-19 hot zones for vaccine distribution.

Anyone 18 and older who lives in three Winnipeg neighbourhoods — Downtown East, Point Douglas South and Inkster East — can sign up for an appointment.

The areas were chosen primarily because of high case numbers in recent months, but also because of socio-economic factors that increase the risk of transmission.

"Our risk analysis included looking at COVID-19 rates ... population density, the percentage of the populations that are racialized within these communities, income levels and access to suitable housing," Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccination effort, said Friday.

Adults who don't live in those areas but work there in certain jobs that deal with the public are also eligible. They include school workers, grocery store employees, convenience store clerks and restaurant staff.

In other regions of the province, the age for vaccine eligibility remains at 30 and up for First Nations people, and 40 and up for others.

More targeted geographic areas will be announced next week, Reimer said, and the list will include areas outside of Winnipeg.

The move came as the province recorded another high number of new COVID-19 cases after seeing several weeks of daily case counts in the double digits. Health officials reported 181 new cases and two deaths Friday.

The percentage of people testing positive has increased, as has the number of people in intensive care with COVID-19.

A top official said stricter public-health orders are under consideration and may be enacted soon, but none had been recommended to the Progressive Conservative government as of Friday.

"We have to look at that balance. For every restriction we put in place, there is a negative consequence to that," Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief public health officer, said.

"That impact could be ... mental-health related. It could be financial-related. It could be related to social well-being. There's a number of different factors here."

The Opposition New Democrats said tougher measures should be imposed right away to avoid a repeat of last fall, when the province was in the grips of a second wave of the pandemic.

"We're seeing this movie that we watched last year repeat itself," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

The government should release more data on where transmission is occurring, Kinew said, so that new health orders can be aimed at curbing high-risk activities.

"We need to see the information about where cases are happening in our province."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2021.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press