Not time for lockdown yet, Pallister says as Manitoba reports highest jump in COVID-19 cases since January

Hours before Manitoba announced its highest jump in COVID-19 cases since January, the province’s premier said it’s not time to bring in lockdown measures just yet.

“We have stringent requirements and regulations we brought in. We’ve strengthened them. We’re open to doing more if need be. And we’re continually monitoring the situation with the guidance of our public health officials,” Brian Pallister said at a news conference on Thursday, as the province marked an eight-day streak of triple-digit case increases.

“Although I know there are probably 100,000 other people out there who have opinions, I’m going to stick with [Dr.] Brent Roussin as my principal adviser when it comes to this.”

Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, announced tightened rules around gathering sizes earlier this week — a change he referred to as the province’s last chance to avoid full lockdown measures.

The 261 COVID-19 cases Manitoba reported on Thursday marked the province’s highest one-day jump in new infections since Jan. 14 — near the tail end of Manitoba’s second wave of cases. The same number of cases was announced that day.

In recent weeks, epidemiologists and other health researchers in Manitoba have warned the province could face a third wave as bad as the second, or worse — unless officials take drastic measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

But Pallister warned that bringing in those kinds of measures could cause job losses, something he said the health-care workers calling for the changes don’t have to worry about.

“I don’t think that the panic that is evident in some of the recommendations is appropriate. It’s coming all too often from people who wouldn’t be affected adversely by a shutdown,” he said. 

“There are a lot of other people out in the province who don’t have a guaranteed paycheque, who are struggling to make ends meet, who have to work for a living, and they don’t want to go back to depending on a government program.”

WATCH | Premier Brian Pallister on calls for tightened pandemic rules in Manitoba:

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the province is open to strengthening its pandemic restrictions if needed amid its third COVID-19 wave, but it also needs to consider how tighter rules could affect people’s livelihoods and mental health. 1:20

Manitoba also announced 97 new cases of more infectious coronavirus variants on Thursday, the province’s online variant dashboard said.

To date, nearly four in every five cases of the more contagious strains identified in Manitoba — 704 of the total 901 reported so far — have been in the Winnipeg health region. The B117 variant, which was first identified in the U.K., is by far the most common, with 727 cases, the dashboard said.

Manitoba has also identified 20 cases of the B1351 strain first seen in South Africa and two cases of the P1 variant now associated with Brazil. Another 152 of the province’s known variant cases are still listed as unspecified on the dashboard.

Outbreak deemed over, despite staff case

The province also announced one more death from COVID-19 on Thursday: a man in his 70s from the Prairie Mountain Health Region. His death, which was linked to the Russell Health Centre, brought Manitoba’s number of fatalities connected to the illness to 962, the province said in a news release.

More than half of the new COVID-19 cases announced Thursday are in the Winnipeg health region, which reported 159. The rest are split among the Northern Health Region (which posted 36), the Southern Health region (31), the Interlake-Eastern health region (25) and the Prairie Mountain Health region (10), the release said.

There are now 145 COVID-19 patients in hospital in Manitoba, up by eight since Wednesday; 35 of those people are in intensive care, up by one.

Manitoba’s five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is up slightly to 6.4 per cent, from 6.3 on Wednesday, the release said. In Winnipeg, that rate dropped slightly to 6.5 per cent from 6.6.

Outbreaks at the Fairview Personal Care Home in Brandon, and the Dauphin Personal Care Home are now over, the province said.

While the Dauphin care home still has one active COVID-19 case in a staff member, the province’s online outbreaks page says, a recent change to how Manitoba defines outbreaks in care homes means a single case no longer clears the bar.

That change, which was made on April 19, now defines an outbreak in those settings as two epi-linked cases among residents, staff or visitors within 14 days, where at least one case could have been acquired at the care home.

A provincial spokesperson said the shift “is consistent with the definition used in other jurisdictions and better aligns with Manitoba’s acute care system.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Manitoba has given out 378,914 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and about 28.7 per cent of the adult population has gotten the first shot, the province’s vaccine dashboard says. To date, Manitoba has received 524,250 doses of various COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, the dashboard says.

There have been 36,890 COVID-19 cases identified in Manitoba, with 34,246 deemed recovered and 1,682 still active. That number dropped by several hundred since Wednesday after reviews of active case information led to more cases being deemed recovered instead of active, the province said.

There were 3,427 COVID-19 tests done in Manitoba on Wednesday.