Manitoba extends restrictions another 3 weeks as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise

·3 min read

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government has extended its COVID-19 restrictions for three weeks, but the Opposition New Democrats are calling for stricter measures to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

"While these orders remain in place, we continue to take steps to improve supply and access to testing and other important initiatives that support our pandemic response and protect our health system," Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Friday in a news release.

The rules limit movie theatres, restaurants, professional sports arenas and many other venues to half capacity or 250 people, whichever is lower, and everyone must be vaccinated. There are also limits on gatherings in private homes — five guests if anyone is unvaccinated and 10 if everyone is immunized.

The orders were set to expire Tuesday, but are to remain in place until Feb. 1. Further action may come if necessary, Gordon said.

The province announced another sharp increase Friday in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations. There were 297 people with COVID-19 in hospital, an increase of more than 10 per cent in one day. The number of patients in intensive care with the virus inched up more slowly — to 34 from 30 reported Wednesday.

The government also reported 3,265 new infections, but daily case counts are an undercount because of a backlog in testing and a shift toward at-home rapid tests. Health officials have said the true number may be eight to 10 times higher.

The New Democrats said the Progressive Conservative government is failing to keep the health-care system from being overwhelmed and criticized Gordon for issuing a release instead of holding a news conference.

"No press conference today from the P. C.s? No additional steps to curb the spread of Omicron?" NDP Leader Wab Kinew posted on social media.

"If Premier (Heather) Stefanson & the P. C.s believe this is the right thing to do they should explain why & answer questions & concerns."

Doctors Manitoba, which represents about 4,000 physicians, urged people last week to go above and beyond current restrictions by forgoing gatherings with other households and reducing social contacts.

The fast-spreading Omicron variant has forced many workers to take time off because they are infected or are isolating while waiting for test results. The Winnipeg Police Service is reassigning some officers to maintain general patrol duties. The city's transit system has had to cancel some bus runs due to the number of drivers off work.

The government has taken other steps to try to slow spread. It recently postponed a return to in-class learning for most students by moving to remote learning until Jan. 17 at the earliest.

The Canadian Paediatric Society wrote to the government Friday to ask that in-class learning resume on the 17th and not be interrupted for the rest of the school year.

"Online learning is harmful," the letter said.

"Social isolation and prolonged in-person school closures have precipitated increases in unhealthy behaviours — such as excessive screen time, reduced physical activity, and substance use — and prevented children and youth from engaging in protective behaviours, such as connecting with their peers, participating in sports and recreation, and celebrating milestones."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2022.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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