Manitoba extends COVID-19 restrictions through holidays, but exempts drive-in events and more

Holiday gatherings will be outlawed in Manitoba this year as sweeping COVID-19 restrictions will be extended into the New Year, though officials have added a number of exemptions to the provincial health order.

Health orders will continue into January, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Premier Brian Pallister announced Tuesday.

Pallister said the orders have worked but restrictions are still needed.

“They’re working. They’re beginning to make a difference. You’re beginning to make a difference, and that is critical as we move forward,” Pallister said.

“This is not a victory lap. These numbers are not sustainable … but Manitobans need to know that what they’ve done has helped.”

A ban on drive-in church services, which some churches have flouted recently in defiance of health orders, will be lifted. Worshipers aren’t allowed to leave their vehicles, and vehicles should only carry members of the same household, Roussin said.

Thrift stores will be allowed to stay open and sell non-essential items. Low-income Manitobans were disproportionately affected by the closure of thrift stores, Roussin said. Stores that have been able to stay open have only been allowed to sell essentials since Nov. 21.

Food banks will have clearer guidelines on how to operate amid the extended restrictions. They were never excluded during past orders, but there was confusion around whether they could operate, Roussin said.

Meanwhile, acupuncture and osteopathy services will be permitted. Both were previously barred from offering services, though regulated health professions such as physiotherapy and dentistry were allowed to continue.

The sale of holiday decorations — Christmas ornaments, wrapping paper, garlands and religious items such as menorahs — will be allowed.

The announcement comes just shy of a month since all of Manitoba was placed under code red, or critical, in the provincial pandemic response system. Even tighter restrictions were brought in starting Nov. 21.

The old order will expire Friday and be replaced with the new orders, which take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. They will expire Jan. 8.