Manitoba COVID-19 plans include volunteers, the Red Cross, more enforcement

Steve Lambert
·3 min read

WINNIPEG — Faced with rising COVID-19 numbers, the Manitoba government issued a call Tuesday for health-care volunteers, promised increased enforcement of public health orders and revealed more on a proposed curfew to curb late-night socializing.

Premier Brian Pallister said volunteers are needed to help out at COVID-19 testing sites, run screening services at health facilities and perform support tasks.

"We want to access some help quickly," Pallister said.

"We're all hoping and praying that this is a short-term need for surge help, and that surge is there right now."

The premier urged people to use the HelpNextDoorMB website to sign up. The site was set up in the spring to find neighbourhood volunteers to help people get groceries, shovel sidewalks and more during the first stage of the pandemic. More than 7,000 signed up at that time.

The Progressive Conservative government is also asking the Canadian Red Cross to help at long-term care homes, where outbreaks in recent weeks have taken a heavy toll.

"We are working with our partners on what that support will look like and when," Red Cross spokesman Jason Small wrote in an email.

Manitoba has faced an intense second wave of the novel coronavirus. The province flattened the curve to just one active case in July, but recent spikes have driven active infections to above 3,400 and the death toll to 85. Almost nine per cent of tests in the last five days have been positive.

The surge has taxed the health system. Intensive care unit beds, used by COVID-19 patients and others, were 94 per cent full as of Monday.

The Opposition New Democrats said the government failed to prepare for the second wave and called for increasing health-care funding.

"New investments are needed. When will the premier face the facts and allocate those resources to life-saving medical treatment?" NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked in question period.

A plan to increase intensive care capacity will be released within a week, Pallister said.

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin has said many of the recent cases are connected to social gatherings indoors at restaurants, bars and in homes.

The government last month ordered bars and restaurants in the greater Winnipeg region to limit their hours and cut capacity, then ordered them closed as of Monday except for takeout and delivery. Public gatherings in the region have been capped at five.

Allegations of rule-breaking continue. Three restaurants and bars in Winnipeg were issued $5,000 fines in recent days for alleged infractions such as not closing on time, serving liquor when they were not supposed to and allowing customers to dance or remain unseated.

Pallister promised to increase enforcement and said Tuesday he is willing to share revenues from the fines with Winnipeg so that municipal police can help with the crackdown.

The province is also seeking public input, through an online survey and an electronic town hall later this week, on a possible curfew that was floated by the premier Monday.

The survey asks respondents what time a potential curfew should start and what channel people might be willing to use to report offenders. Options for the latter include police, social media and a government website.

"A curfew may well help us to reduce the number of things like the big house parties that have been happening and things like that that are, according to Dr. Roussin, leading to hot spots and leading to relatively massive uptake in COVID testing as a consequence," Pallister said Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2020.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press