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

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

“We don’t like what we’re starting to see,” Dr. Jazz Atwal said at a Friday news conference, adding that Manitoba’s test positivity rate rose nearly two per cent in the last two weeks, and cases among younger people are also increasing.

In the Winnipeg health region alone, the more infectious strains now make up 41 per cent of active COVID-19 cases, a provincial spokesperson said in an email later Friday.

In the province at large, the variants make up 20 per cent of active cases — a jump from around 15 per cent over the previous three weeks, according to the province’s latest epidemiological data.

“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,” Atwal said.

“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.”

On Friday, 57 new cases of more contagious coronavirus variants were reported in Manitoba on the province’s variant dashboard. Those confirmations are all from recent tests, the provincial spokesperson’s email said, and there’s no longer a lag in confirming variant cases.

That brings the total infections linked to the strains to 704.

Most of those cases are the B117 variant first seen in the U.K., though the province has also reported several cases of the B1351 strain first seen in South Africa and one case of the P1 variant, which has become associated with Brazil.

Atwal said contact tracers have started seeing more COVID-19 cases linked to gatherings like house parties, play dates and sleepovers with other households, which aren’t allowed under the current rules.

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

WATCH | Dr. Jazz Atwal warns about increasing COVID-19 cases:

Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, said Friday Manitoba’s test positivity rate rose nearly two per cent in the last two weeks, and cases among younger people are on the rise. 1:28

The province also reported two possible public exposures to the B117 variant last week in Thompson.

The first was at the northern city’s Walmart store between 3:30 and 5 p.m. on April 6, and the second was at its Safeway store between 2 and 3 p.m. on April 10, the province said in a news release. Both stores are located in City Centre Mall at 300 Mystery Lake Rd.

Cases plateauing, Atwal says

Manitoba reported 127 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, part of a plateau of case numbers over the past few days that Atwal described as “comfortable.”

No new deaths linked to the illness were reported.

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 COVID-19 vaccine before they were eligible found some instances of people getting the shot 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.

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.

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

WATCH | Dr. Jazz Atwal’s full COVID-19 update:

Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Friday, April 16, 2021. 28:48

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