Restaurants, bars and patios in Manitoba will once again have to close to in-person dining as of Sunday, while many other businesses will have to shut down entirely for three weeks, as the province works to slow its rising third wave of COVID-19.
“We’ve done this before and I know that Manitobans can do it again. This time, we do see that hope. We do see a summer where we have high vaccine uptake and low COVID numbers,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a Friday evening news conference.
Gyms, museums and day camps in Manitoba are among those that will have to shut down under the new health orders, which come into effect as of 12:01 a.m. Sunday. So will fitness centres, galleries and libraries. Casinos will remain closed, and VLTs will not be allowed to operate.
Indoor religious, cultural and community gatherings will also no longer be allowed starting Sunday. Outdoor gatherings in public areas involving people from more than one household will be limited to a maximum of five people, down from the current limit of 10. Self-help gatherings will be allowed to continue, but are also limited to 10 participants.
Restaurants and bars can remain open, but only takeout and delivery service will be allowed.
Visits to private residences — whether indoors or outdoors — remain prohibited, per existing public health orders.
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Indoor sports and recreation, including after-school activities, will also be shut down under the new orders. Outdoor sports will be limited to a maximum of five participants, while organized team games will be banned. Dance, theatre and music schools will also be forced to close.
Personal services including estheticians, barbers, and hair and tanning salons will also have to shut down under the new rules.
Retail stores, markets and garden centres will only be allowed to open at 10 per cent capacity, up to a maximum of 100 people, while malls will be allowed to open at 10 per cent of their capacities.
The latest changes to Manitoba’s public health orders will stay in place until May 30.
Rising cases, hospitalizations
The update comes amid what Roussin called a “dramatic” rise in cases that have translated to a similar jump in COVID-19 patients ending up in intensive care. Earlier Friday, Manitoba reported 502 new infections — a height the province hasn’t seen since the peak of its second wave in November.
Intensive care units in Manitoba’s hospitals are seeing a swell from the latest wave of cases, prompting health officials to ramp up critical care systems to meet the influx of patients.
As of Friday, the province added 19 ICU beds across a number of hospitals and is preparing for more.
Pandemic modelling data obtained by CBC News suggests the province expects the number of COVID-19 patients in its intensive care units to exceed the peak of the pandemic’s second wave by the end of the May long weekend, and that number could double again before summer.
But the restrictions announced Friday aren’t as strict as the measures brought in during that second wave, when stores were barred from selling non-essential goods.
There were no changes to classrooms included in the latest pandemic measures, but Roussin said shutting down schools is something the province is “actively looking at.”
“We haven’t made a decision on that, but we are going to able to provide more information on that in the very near future,” he said.
Roussin urged people to reduce the number of contacts they have outside their household and wear masks whenever they’re unable to physically distance — even when outdoors.
Tightened rules took too long: Opposition
The last round of changes to health orders was just introduced last week. At a news conference Friday morning, Premier Brian Pallister expanding on those orders would provide “an extra step.”
Asked why the province allowed COVID-19 numbers to reach their current heights before introducing new restrictions, Pallister insisted the province’s orders have been among the toughest in the country, with lower gathering limits than most provinces.
But NDP Leader Wab Kinew scoffed at that response.
Following Roussin’s Friday evening news conference, the Opposition leader said the province was slow to respond to its third COVID-19 wave, so now it’s up to Manitobans to do their part to keep the illness from spreading further.
WATCH | Pallister on why Manitoba didn’t tighten its rules earlier:
“I understand that many people are feeling frustrated at this current moment. But what I hope to convey to you is the importance of us continuing to work together to beat back this common foe, because we do look forward to brighter days coming soon,” he said.
“We may feel that frustration and that’s OK, but we have to take that deep breath and continue to push through this period.”
He called on the province to ramp up its vaccine rollout by keeping its immunization sites running around the clock, and for all teachers and other school staff to be prioritized to get their shots immediately.
Kinew also urged the government to offer financial support to small businesses and workers affected by the shutdowns coming Sunday.
Asked Friday morning by reporters if he would consider a full lockdown if the numbers continue to increase, Pallister said, “let’s hope not.”
“We’ve taken the advice of our health experts throughout this pandemic [and] we’ll continue to,” he said.
“There will always be those who say we should have done more. There’ll be those who say we should have done less. We’ve done our best.”
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