WINNIPEG — Manitoba is tightening public health restrictions, particularly on large gatherings, to curb the spread of COVID-19 cases spurred by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Many large indoor venues like gyms, movie theatres and large sporting venues were already limited to half capacity. But the new restrictions mean indoor and outdoor public gatherings must not exceed 50 per cent of the capacity or 250 people — whichever is fewer — even for those who are fully vaccinated.
Liquor sales in restaurants and licensed premises must end at 10 p.m. every day.
The changes come into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
Premier Heather Stefanson acknowledged that these restrictions will be disappointing to many Manitobans.
"But we must act now to protect our health-care system and ensure Manitobans can access the care they need when they need it," she told reporters Monday.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said while the measures are set to end Jan. 11, they could be reviewed based on COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The province reported eight new COVID-19 related deaths and 2,154 cases for a three-day period since Christmas Eve.
Officials reported 785 cases on Christmas Day, 694 on Boxing Day and 675 on Monday. The province says updated vaccine data is expected to be available Wednesday.
Experts have said that there may be more COVID-19 cases than reported because a number of sites and hospitals have reached testing limits.
Health officials said in a news release earlier that about 75 per cent of the COVID-19 cases are of the Omicron variant. Only "certain samples" for Omicron will be screened and case numbers for the variant will not be given, they said.
Roussin said it's too early to rely on reports from other jurisdictions that the variant is less severe. The province needs to be prepared because it's spreading to so many people, he added.
"Even a dramatic decrease in severity could put a strain on the health-care system."
Earlier Monday, Manitoba said it would be making take-home, self-administered rapid tests available at provincial testing sites.
Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon said in a statement that most symptomatic and fully vaccinated people who go to testing sites will receive a rapid test to take at home, and will only be asked to return for a PCR if the result is positive.
The move is intended to reduce the backlog in testing, which Roussin noted is causing problems in that some people aren't waiting for their results when they're supposed to be isolating.
"We're phoning people who are ill who came in for testing, testing positive, but no one's at home," he said.
"If you are ill and needed to get testing, you need to isolate until you get your results and we're finding a significant portion of people who got tested are out and about."
— By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 27, 2021.
The Canadian Press