Broad shutdowns will start in Winnipeg and surrounding areas on Monday as Manitoba moves its capital area to the red, or critical, level — the highest stage of its pandemic response scale — following days of record-shattering COVID-19 case announcements.
Movie theatres, concert halls, sports facilities and restaurant dining rooms in the region will be ordered to close starting Monday, as officials struggle to control a rising tide of cases.
Elective and non-urgent surgeries and diagnostic procedures in the region will be suspended in the face of pandemic strain on the health-care system, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said on Friday.
“We were left with no choice,” he said. “We have to deal with this virus and the transmission now.”
The rest of Manitoba will move up to the orange, or restricted, level starting Monday, Roussin said. The order will limit gathering sizes to five and reduce capacity in public-facing businesses.
The new measures will be in place for at least two weeks, he said Friday.
They come as Manitoba announced a record-breaking 480 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, although that number includes cases identified over the past several days due to a backlog in reporting, Roussin said. The province’s test positivity rate on Friday was also at a record high of 8.6 per cent.
A total of 104 people are in hospital due to COVID-19, including 19 in intensive care, as of Friday. Winnipeg’s intensive care units are at 96 per cent capacity, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer of Shared Health — with only three of 71 intensive care beds currently empty.
“The numbers today will strike fear in many Manitobans,” Siragusa said.
Closures in the Winnipeg region will also extend to museums, libraries and galleries. Restaurants may still offer takeout and delivery services. Fitness facilities will be reduced to 25 per cent capacity and masks are mandatory, even while exercising.
Visitation at hospitals in the area will be suspended, with case-by-case exceptions for patients receiving end-of-life care, in labour and pediatric patients.
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No changes will be made to schools in the Winnipeg area, which are already at the restricted orange level, the province said. Despite numerous cases of COVID-19 reported among school-aged children, Roussin said Friday that schools have not been a significant source of spread.
Retail stores in the Winnipeg region must limit capacity to 25 per cent or five people, whichever is higher. However, to reduce the impact on food security and prevent panic buying, grocery stores and pharmacies will be allowed to continue operating at their current 50 per cent capacity, Roussin said.
Community, cultural and faith-based gatherings in the area will be limited to 15 per cent capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower.
“We are at a turning point right now,” Roussin said. “If we don’t make a dramatic change, we’re going to see our health-care system significantly strained.”
Tighter restrictions across province
Across Manitoba, outside of Winnipeg, the orange-level restrictions will reduce capacity at restaurants, bars, retail stores, museums, galleries and libraries to 50 per cent on Monday.
A variety of establishments outside the city area — including movie theatres, concert halls, libraries and more — must collect and keep contact information for people who enter. Casinos in those regions must close.
The province is encouraging Manitobans to limit the number of people from each household who go shopping but didn’t mandate it. It’s also recommending that Manitobans stop socializing beyond their households, but it hasn’t mandated that, either.
Manitoba had a relatively small first wave and a slow summer, including a stretch of nearly two weeks without a single positive test that culminated in a day in July with just one active case.
But cases have surged in recent weeks. Triple-digit new case announcements have become the norm in recent days, despite ever-tightening measures announced by health officials each week for five consecutive weeks.
Neither Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister nor Health Minister Cameron Friesen were present at the news conference announcing tighter restrictions on Friday.
In a written statement emailed to media on Friday afternoon, Pallister said, “Our government will continue to act on the advice of Dr. Roussin and our health-care experts.
“It is our hope that these new measures will help slow the spread of this virus and ensure our health-care system is there for all Manitobans, when they need it.”