Hundreds of more contagious variant cases emerge in Manitoba, including P1 case with no known source

The total number of more contagious coronavirus variant cases in Manitoba shot up by 300 on Friday, including a P1 case in Winnipeg that has no known source.

Public health officials also announced two deaths — one linked to a variant — and 181 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with most new cases in Winnipeg.

Despite only being announced Friday, the province suggested two newly reported Winnipeg cases of P1, the variant originally detected in Brazil, have already recovered. Officials said there is no known source of acquisition for one of those cases, both of which are the first P1 cases in the city.

Manitoba has seen a significant increase in cases since last Friday, when Dr. Jazz Atwal said officials were “comfortable” with where things were.

Socializing promotes transmission: Atwal

However, people continue to get together and that’s promoting transmission of the virus, the acting deputy chief provincial public health officer said at a news conference Friday.

“These social gatherings keep coming to the forefront in our contact investigations,” Atwal said.

The news comes a few days after Manitoba reintroduced some restrictions. Households may only have two designated visitors, and various businesses and places of worship have had their capacity limits decreased.

Manitoba also identified three at-risk neighbourhoods in Winnipeg on Friday where anyone 18 or older is now eligible to be vaccinated.

The number of Manitobans in hospital due to COVID-19 decreased slightly to 144, with 35 of those people in intensive care. The number in hospital has held relatively steady lately, but the number in ICU has been trending up in recent weeks, Atwal said.

The provincial test positivity rate increased slightly to 6.5 per cent. It’s 6.8 per cent in Winnipeg, compared to 6.5 per cent on Thursday.

These rates have also shot up considerably. Manitoba’s rate was four per cent three weeks ago; Winnipeg’s was 3.2 per cent.

The two deaths Atwal announced were a man in his 50s from Winnipeg, and another Winnipeg man in his 70s whose death is linked to the B117 coronavirus variant originally detected in the U.K.

So far, 964 people have died due to COVID-19, including three due to variants of concern.

An outbreak was declared over at Boissevain School in Boissevain

And there have been two possible exposures to the B117 variant, including one just west of Brandon on April 11 at 11 a.m. in Sioux Valley Community Church on Sioux Valley Dakota Nation. The other was in the Interlake on April 12 at Skownan Hall in Skownan First Nation

Active variant totals spike

The total number of variant cases to date reached 1,201 on Friday, up from 901. Variant cases are reported more slowly than overall case numbers because extra time is needed to identify them. 

Active variant cases also spiked to 499 from 277.

Most of these cases are in Winnipeg, and the majority are linked to the B117 variant first detected in the U.K.

WATCH | Atwal says it’s up to Manitobans to ‘save summer’

Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, on Friday urged Manitobans to follow public health orders and go beyond them where possible, to prevent future lockdowns this spring and summer. 1:02

The number of provincial cases of the P1 variant, which first emerged in Brazil, also rose to four from two, with both new cases popping up in Winnipeg for the first time, a provincial spokesperson said. 

Two other P1 cases are from the Interlake-Eastern health region, where one is listed as recovered and another as active.

Of the four P1 cases to date, two were acquired through close contacts and one was linked to travel.

One of the Winnipeg cases has no known source of acquisition. That person is isolating but had at least four contacts, according to the province. 

Priority neighbourhood map released

The province also released a map Friday of hot spot areas in the province where everyone 18 and older is now eligible to be vaccinated: Inkster east, Point Douglas south and downtown east.

Three areas in and around the core have been listed as priority for vaccination, and anyone 18 and older in select at-risk groups in these areas became eligible on Friday. (CBC News Graphics)

The areas were selected because of higher case numbers and social factors, including lower-income households, crowded housing and more dense populatons of racialized people, said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine rollout.

The next group of priority neighbourhoods will be announced early next week, she said.

WATCH | Dr. Reimer explains priority hotspot selection process:

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, said Friday the task force look at multiple factors when choosing the three Winnipeg communities that will be first to receive priority access to COVID-19 vaccines. The province announced Friday anyone over 18 who lives or works in certain jobs in Winnipeg’s Downtown East, Point Douglas South and Inkster East areas is now eligible for immunization. 2:06

Reimer asked Manitobans to get whatever vaccine they are eligible for first.

“Just get protection as soon as they possibly can,” she said. “We need to use every dose of vaccine that we have available as quickly as possible.”

As of Friday, nearly one in three adult Manitobans — 29.9 per cent — had received at least one vaccine dose, up from 28.7 per cent on Thursday, the provincial vaccine dashboard says. 

Atwal was asked numerous times by reporters why the province hasn’t imposed more stringent restrictions given the rise in cases in the past couple of weeks.

There are negative social impacts to lockdowns, he said.

Instead, he encouraged Manitobans to keep each other in check, cut down on close contacts, and consider being even more careful than what current public health guidelines allow.

“We know what happens with case numbers when they rise,” he said.

“We are going to continue to put the least amount of restrictions on Manitobans. We want Manitobans to do what the orders ask them to do but also to follow the spirit of that order.”

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | April 23, 2021:

Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Friday, April 23, 2021. 46:00