WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government extended public health orders and welcomed health-care staff from the federal government Tuesday as COVID-19 pushed the province's hospitals closer to the edge.
Some restrictions tightened last week for the May long weekend were set to expire Wednesday, but are to remain in place until the end of the week. They include a ban on gatherings, indoors or out, except among members of the same household, although there is a small exemption for people who live alone.
"We need Manitobans to know that our health-care system, right now, is at the brink, and we need to bring down these numbers," said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer.
The number of people in intensive care beds was at 126 — more than 50 per cent above pre-pandemic capacity. That number did not include 18 intensive care patients who have been sent to hospitals in several Ontario cities over the past week to try to free up beds.
Half a dozen doctors called on the Progressive Conservative government to close non-essential businesses and enact a stay-at-home order. The surge of COVID-19 patients and the need to reassign health-care workers have resulted in cancelled surgeries and backlogs in other areas of medical care, they said.
"Anyone who has a serious chronic condition, who may have an early cancer that needs to be diagnosed, or is in need of urgent surgery, is now at great risk of not getting the care they need," the doctors said in a statement.
One of the physicians who works in intensive care, Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, said six people have died while waiting for cardiac surgery during the pandemic's third wave.
Premier Brian Pallister asked the federal government last week for health-care staff. Provincial health officials confirmed Tuesday that 12 critical-care nurses are scheduled to arrive in the coming days.
Saskatchewan is also set to accept intensive care patients from Manitoba.
"Starting tomorrow, we will accept our first patient from Manitoba. They may be sent to an ICU outside Saskatoon or Regina," said Scott Livingstone, chief executive officer of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
"Our plan is to work on a day-by-day basis for the next five days, to look at if we have the ability to support and transfer basically a patient a day."
Manitoba has had the highest per-capita rate of new COVID-19 infections in Canada this month. Health officials reported 259 new cases Tuesday, down from a peak of 603 last week, and two deaths.
Roussin did not rule out stricter public health orders, but said there is little interaction allowed between people under the current rules.
A ban on indoor public gatherings and a 10-pe- cent limit on capacity at stores have been in place for three weeks. Restaurants have been restricted to takeout and delivery, while gyms and hair salons have had to close. Schools in Winnipeg, Brandon and some other areas have moved to remote learning.
Pallister said the public health orders have been stricter and in place longer than most provinces west of New Brunswick.
He pointed the finger partly at the public. Some people are simply ignoring the rules, he said.
"I don't have a lot of sympathy left for people who disobey public health orders knowingly and willingly."
Pallister also repeated a statement by public health officials that some people who have tested positive for the virus are not co-operating with contact tracers.
— With files from Julia Peterson in Regina
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2021.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press