Manitoba reports record with nearly 750 COVID cases, urges change to holiday plans

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WINNIPEG — Public health officials in Manitoba are urging residents to significantly scale back holiday celebrations as the province reported nearly 750 new COVID-19 cases Friday, making it the highest daily count of the pandemic.

The government didn't implement new restrictions as case numbers continue to climb due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant. But the province's top doctor said officials are closely watching developments.

"We're here today to strongly recommend Manitobans limit their close contacts throughout this holiday season. Manitobans must, and I stress must, follow the current public health orders," said Audrey Gordon, the minister of health and seniors care.

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said residents need to adjust their plans this weekend as the province is seeing rapid transmission of Omicron.

"Many people were having multiple gatherings planned this weekend," Roussin said. "If you were going to three or four gatherings this weekend, this should be down to one. If you're having 10 people over, you should limit that number further."

The province announced 742 new cases Friday, up from 556 cases a day earlier, for a total of 3,626 active cases. The province also reported two more deaths linked to the virus.

There were 135 Manitobans hospitalized with COVID-19, with 24 of those patients in intensive care.

Four new cases of the Omicron variant were reported for a total of 22.

Roussin also said the latest case counts are likely an underestimate, as the province's testing system is at capacity and there was a 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.

He encouraged young people under the age of 40 who don't have underlying health conditions to stay home and isolate if they have cold or flu-like symptoms, saying "you can assume you have Omicron."

Roussin was pressed Friday on why the province wasn't implementing new restrictions immediately.

"We're looking at this by the hour. We need to pivot quickly with the messaging and so we're sending out some very clear messaging that holiday plans need to change," he said.

He added Manitobans should expect some changes to large gathering sizes next week.

Tighter public health orders previously came into effect Tuesday in the face of the emerging Omicron variant.

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 require people to show proof of vaccination, are limited to half capacity.

The province also made some changes Friday to eligibility requirements to receive a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead with Manitoba's vaccine implementation group, said anyone 50 and over can now book a booster shot five months after their second dose. The six month time frame between second and third shots still applies for those under 50.

"It's really important that we prioritize people that are at the highest risk of severe outcomes," said Reimer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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