Too soon to say if COVID-19 rules will loosen, Manitoba public health chief says, as 118 new cases reported

It’s still too early to say if Manitoba public health orders will be relaxed, Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday, four days before the current rules are set to expire.

“We’re starting to see our case numbers coming down, and while our restrictions are due for review, we need to ensure that this is not the time that we relax our efforts against this virus,” Roussin said during a news conference, his first public appearance since before the winter holidays.

Manitoba’s current red-level public health orders, which prohibit nearly all visitors at private residences and forbid the sale of non-essential items in stores, will expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

On Monday, Roussin said the orders are under review, but new rules have not been determined.

“Our test positivity rates are still quite high, the hospitalization and ICU numbers are still high, and it’s also too early to know what the effects of what gathering over the holidays may have had on our numbers,” he said.

“We haven’t yet landed on the new restrictions.”

Five more Manitobans have died and there are 118 new reported cases of COVID-19 on Monday, Roussin said Monday. A total of 688 Manitobans have now died from COVID-19.

The latest deaths are a woman in her 30s, a woman in her 60s and three women in their 90s, all from the Winnipeg health region.

Two of the deaths were linked to Winnipeg outbreaks: one of the women in her 90s was linked to an outbreak at River Ridge II Retirement Residence, and another woman her in 90s was linked to an outbreak at Bethania Mennonite Personal Care Home.

Of the new cases announced Monday, 80 are in Winnipeg. There are 19 in the Southern Health region, seven in the Prairie Mountain Health region, five in the Northern Health Region and seven in the Interlake-Eastern health region.

The five-day test positivity rate is 10.7 per cent provincially and 11.8 per cent in Winnipeg.

International travellers tested

The current rules, which include a ban on indoor social gatherings with people from different households, also forbid the sale of non-essential items in stores, and order the closure of places of worship, gyms, theatres and other businesses. Under the rules, restaurants may only offer take-out and delivery.

Premier Brian Pallister suggested last week the province will likely ease some restrictions within the first three months of the new year, but didn’t indicate when that will happen or which rules may be lifted.

Manitoba’s daily case count, test-positivity rates and hospitalization numbers for COVID-19 have decreased somewhat in recent weeks. Test numbers were also lower over the holidays. A total of 1,275 tests were completed on Sunday, Roussin said.

The province is also working to identify any local cases of a new variant that started spreading widely in the United Kingdom last month, Roussin said Monday. The new strain has been found in Ontario, B.C., Alberta and Quebec but has not been seen in Manitoba, he said.

Early evidence suggests the new variant is more transmissible than the strain currently dominant in Canada, but there is no evidence to suggest it is more deadly or difficult to detect.

The province also announced Monday that all international travellers should get tested for COVID-19 when they arrive in the province, and again seven days later, regardless of whether they have symptoms. That’s in addition to the 14-day self-isolation period, Roussin said.

The province is also doing checks on positive COVID-19 tests where the patient travelled internationally, Roussin said. Molecular genotyping is being used to determine if they’re the new variant.

“It’s not putting additional strain on our testing sites or the testing capacity at this point,” he said.

Vaccine super site open

There are currently 340 people in hospital for COVID-19 in Manitoba, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health: 245 of them have active COVID-19 and 95 are no longer considered infectious.

There are a total of 113 people in Manitoba ICUs — 157 per cent of normal, pre-COVID capacity — including 41 people with COVID-19. Among the people with COVID-19, 35 have active COVID-19 and six are no longer considered infectious, Siragusa said.

A total of 65 people are on ventilators in Manitoba, including 30 who have COVID-19, Siragusa said.

Also on Monday, Manitoba officially opened its COVID-19 vaccination super site at the RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg.

More than 4,100 health-care workers had appointments to receive their first dose of the vaccine this week, and 2,000 slots remained available as of Sunday evening, the province said in a news release.

Appointments are available to health-care workers dealing directly with patients in critical care units and COVID-19 immunization clinics or testing sites. Health-care workers who work with patients at long-term or acute care facilities and who were born by Dec. 31, 1975, are also eligible.

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