Gatherings with people outside same household prohibited starting Saturday in Manitoba

Manitobans will soon only be able to gather outdoors with people they live with, and only one person per household will be allowed to enter a business, announced Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer.

Dr. Brent Roussin and Manitoba Health Minister Heather Stefanson announced new public health restrictions ahead of the May long weekend, as public health officials reported a record single-day COVID-19 case count Thursday and the local ICUs are near capacity.

As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, people will only be allowed to gather outdoors with people they live with — unless they live alone, then they can still have one designated visitor. Only one person per household can enter a business to purchase essential items, though there are exceptions for people such as single parents and caregivers, Roussin said. 

“We have to take these stronger actions to protect Manitobans, to protect our health-care system,” said Roussin.

“It’s of course frustrating, because we’ve been at this for so long. But we can see from our numbers that it’s absolutely required to change what we’re doing right now.”

A record 603 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Manitoba on Thursday, pushing the total of known active cases to 4,659.

Three more Manitobans have died from the illness, pushing total COVID-19 deaths in the province to 1,019.

The new public health restrictions come a day after Manitoba sent three COVID-19 ICU patients to hospital in Thunder Bay, Ont., because the recent spike of severe cases has put the local ICU capacity at risk.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister told reporters earlier Thursday that there have been surges in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving, Easter and spring break. The new restrictions announced Thursday afternoon aim to stop that from happening this Victoria Day weekend, he said.

Health Minister Heather Stefanson started Thursday’s news conference by acknowledging the fact that summer weather has finally arrived in Manitoba and that the May long weekend, for some, often signals the unofficial beginning of summertime.

“We know that everyone would love to spend the weekend connecting with friends, family and loved ones,” said Stefanson.

“Today we’re urging everyone to hang on a little bit longer.”

WATCH | ‘We have hundreds of people in hospital struggling for their lives,’ says Dr. Brent Roussin:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, urged Manitobans to follow new, stricter public health rules over May long weekend at a news conference on Thursday. 0:36

Roussin noted that the new restrictions announced Thursday marks the fourth time in a month that stiffer measures were announced.

The current public health order bans all private gatherings, but outdoor gatherings in public spaces could have up to five people. They do not have to be from the same household.

But some Manitobans now in the ICU due to COVID-19 contracted the novel coronavirus that causes the illness at events such as potlucks, said Roussin.

“Our hearts go out to them and their family, because no one would be intending this to occur. But we just know that’s the risk of gathering,” he said.

Aside from business shutdowns and capacity limits, there are currently no restrictions on how many people can visit a business — but that will change on Saturday.

WATCH | Manitoba health minister says rule breakers will be fined after new, stricter health orders introduced for long weekend: 

Manitoba Health Minister Heather Stefanson said Thursday the province will continue efforts to encourage Manitobans to follow pandemic rules, and will fine people who choose not to do so. 0:49

Manitoba’s public health restrictions can’t get much stricter, said Roussin, but with the strain on the health-care system, high transmission rate and high case counts, stricter measures are required.

This is a way to reinforce the messaging for Manitobans to stay home, reduce their number of contacts outside of their household, he said.

The new restrictions will be in effect until 12:01 a.m. on May 26.

As of right now, there are no changes to things such as child care, said Roussin. But public health officials will be further reviewing what is needed next week.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew told reporters Thursday that it is critical for Manitobans to follow the new restrictions.

“It’s an important time: record-high numbers in terms of the pandemic, Manitobans being sent out of province. We really have to respect the health orders that Dr. Roussin has put into place,” said Kinew.

But Kinew is also frustrated because the Progressive Conservative government, he alleges, is tightening restrictions without bolstering the health-care system in the necessary areas, namely ICUs.

Uzoma Asagwara, Opposition NDP health critic, echoed Kinew in that public health rules must be followed “to the letter,” but the government must put resources toward health care and COVID-19 vaccines accessible to the public.

Asagwara was disappointed, however, by how minister Stefanson answered — or didn’t answer — questions reporters asked regarding local ICUs and transporting patients out of the province, then seemingly blamed the high rate of severe outcomes on people not getting vaccinated, they said.

“The vaccine rollout was slow in Manitoba,” said Asagwara.

“It’s highly problematic for the minister of health to blame sick Manitobans who are in ICU right now for their current health status. That’s deeply disappointing and deeply concerning.”

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | May 20, 2021:

Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak and May long weekend restrictions: Thursday, May 20, 2021. 38:14