‘We don’t like what we’re starting to see’ as virus variants make up 40% of Winnipeg cases in 1 week: Atwal

Highly contagious coronavirus variants are on the rise in Manitoba — and if people don’t start following pandemic rules, the province will soon see tighter restrictions, the province’s acting deputy chief provincial public health officer says.

In the Winnipeg health region alone, the more infectious strains made up nearly 40 per cent of new cases in the first week of April, Dr. Jazz Atwal said at a news conference on Friday.

“We don’t like what we’re starting to see,” Atwal said, adding that Manitoba’s test positivity rate rose nearly two per cent in the last two weeks, and cases among younger people are on the rise.

“We don’t want to have to introduce public health measures, but we are working on finalizing our plans and we’ll be sharing information on any new restrictions in the coming days. What we introduce will depend on the numbers that we’re seeing and the epidemiology of the cases over the next short period of time.”

Atwal said contact tracers are seeing more cases linked to larger gatherings like house parties, play dates and sleepovers with other households that aren’t allowed under the current rules.

“If everyone has this many close contacts, the third wave will be severe,” he said.

The province also reported 127 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths related to the illness in a news release on Friday.

As well, another 57 new cases of more contagious coronavirus variants have been detected in Manitoba, the province’s variant dashboard says.

The province also reported two possible public exposures in Thompson to the B117 variant first identified in the U.K.

One was at the city’s Walmart store between 3:30 and 5 p.m. on April 6, and the other was at Thompson’s Safeway store between 2 and 3 p.m. on April 10. Both stores are located at 300 Mystery Lake Rd.

On Friday, Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate went down slightly to 5.1 per cent, from 5.3 per cent on Thursday. In Winnipeg, that rate went down to 4.9 per cent from 5.1.

More than half of the new COVID-19 cases announced on Friday were in the Winnipeg health region, which posted 75 new infections.

The remaining new cases were split between the Northern Health Region (which had 29), the Interlake-Eastern health region (12), the Prairie Mountain Health region (six) and the Southern Health region (five).

Atwal said a recent audit to investigate whether health-care workers in Manitoba got the shot before they were eligible found some instances of people getting vaccinated slightly ahead of their age bracket. 

“However, none of these instances were identified as being blatant attempts to jump the vaccination queue, and no further action will be taken,” he said.

The emergency order that allowed that review will not be renewed, he said.

There are now 130 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, the province said, down by seven from Thursday. Of those, 34 are in intensive care, down by one.

There have now been 35,815 COVID-19 cases identified in Manitoba, of which 1,551 are considered active and 33,309 recovered.

Outbreaks have been declared at the Middlechurch Personal Care Home in Winnipeg and the Flin Flon Personal Care Home, the province said.

An outbreak previously declared in the B5 unit at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg is now over.

Health officials on Thursday announced the presence of a third highly contagious coronavirus variant, the P1 strain, in Manitoba. Early research out of Brazil suggests P1 is 2½ times more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain.

It was detected in a person from the Interlake-Eastern health region and linked to travel.

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