Manitoba premier promises vaccines for nursing homes, warns of ongoing restrictions

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WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is promising COVID-19 vaccines for personal care home residents across the province while also warning that restrictions on business openings and public gatherings will continue for some time.

"By mid-March, every single eligible (personal care home) resident will have received both doses, and the fullest protection we can provide them against this deadly virus," Pallister said Wednesday.

The government released a plan that will see vaccination teams roll out to seven care homes next week. Residents of the remaining 128 homes are to receive at least an initial dose within the next month. The vaccines require a second dose a few weeks later.

For other high-priority groups, such as health-care workers, the province will open large-scale vaccination sites in Brandon and Thompson in the coming weeks, Pallister added. A similar site in Winnipeg opened this week.

Manitoba has been under strict public health orders since mid-November that have forced non-essential businesses to close, barred public gatherings of more than five people, and forbidden most social visits in private homes.

A public health order that contains the restrictions is set to expire Friday. Pallister said most, if not all, of the rules will be extended.

"I don't think there's going to be any significant change, to be frank."

The measures have paid off with lower case numbers, but it is too early to relax the rules to any great extent, said Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief public health officer in Manitoba.

"Our test-positivity (rate) still is high. Our hospitalization and (intensive care unit) numbers are still high," Atwal said.

He reported 167 additional COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths Wednesday. Daily case counts have dropped sharply since the fall, but demand for intensive care beds has gone down only slightly.

Atwal also said the province is waiting for a potential spike in cases from the Christmas period. Nearly 60 infections and more than 400 contacts in recent days have been linked to holiday gatherings, he said.

Pallister said there will be more provincial aid for businesses that have been forced to close to the public. The province's last round of help included $5,000 grants to cover a period of several weeks leading up to early January.

"We plan on continuing to make those available as long as is necessary," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2021

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press