WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is banning virtually all social gatherings between members of different households, even outdoors, as it faces a record number of new COVID-19 cases and a surge of hospitalizations.
"I can't understate the importance of us staying at home now, to eliminate contacts outside of our household," Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer, said Thursday.
"We're just seeing such increased transmission right now, increased demand on our health-care system."
Roussin's announcement came after health officials announced 603 new COVID-19 cases — a record that broke the previous high last week by 43.
The demand for intensive care has risen so sharply, three patients were sent to Thunder Bay, Ont., this week to free up beds. The number of people in intensive care hit a record 131 Wednesday before dropping to 125 the next day. Before the pandemic, Manitoba's capacity was 72.
The Progressive Conservative government had already tightened restrictions three times in the past month.
Restaurants have been restricted to delivery and takeout. Schools in Winnipeg and some other areas moved to remote learning. Indoor social visits in private homes were banned, and public gatherings outdoors were capped at five people.
Starting Saturday morning and until Wednesday, people will only be allowed to gather outdoors with members of their own household. People who live alone have an exemption that allows them to meet with one other person.
Also during that time, only one person per household will be allowed to enter a store or other business, with some exceptions such as a single parent with children.
Premier Brian Pallister, who spoke a few hours before Roussin, urged people to be careful and follow all public health orders.
"I think we're in the darkest days of this time, with this pandemic," Pallister said.
"Clearly, case numbers are very, very high and unsustainably high."
Pallister said hospitals in northern Ontario have the ability to take about two-dozen intensive care patients from Manitoba if the need arises.
Dozens of nurses are being trained up for intensive care duties and redirected from other areas of the health system, he added.
Pallister also promised to reveal a new incentive for people to get vaccinated next week as another way to cut the daily rate of new infections, but he would not disclose details.
The Opposition New Democrats said the government had plenty of warning that the third wave of the pandemic was coming and failed to prepare.
They pointed out that many doctors in the province urged the government three weeks ago to enact tougher public health orders to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
"What is taking place in hospitals right now is not only disturbing, it's very dangerous — moving people hundreds of kilometres because this government failed to invest ... in intensive care," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in the legislature.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press