Manitoba is banning social gatherings between members of different households going into the May long weekend as the province faces a record number of new COVID-19 cases.
Chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said even in outdoor areas such as parks and golf courses, people must now only interact with members of their own household.
“I can’t understate the importance of staying at home now,” he said at a Thursday press conference.
“We’re just seeing such increased transmission right now, increased demand on our health-care system.”
Under the additional changes to public health orders, which go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning, only one member from a household will be allowed to go into a business, with some exceptions for single parents or people who require a caregiver, Roussin added.
“We’re in a very critical stage — right now our focus should be to limit our contact outside our household,” he said.
“So going out for essential reasons only — that’s not a social visit, it would be to purchase essential items — and then again back home, staying home as much as possible.”
Roussin said the government has little choice because of rising case counts and a surge in demand for intensive care beds.
The additional measures will remain in place until May 26, the province said.
Earlier in the day Thursday — before health officials announced a record-setting 603 new COVID-19 infections and three additional deaths — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said tighter restrictions were needed going into the long weekend.
“Case counts spiked after Thanksgiving, case counts spiked after Easter and Spring break — we can’t have the same thing happen after the May long weekend,” Pallister said.
“I think we’re in the darkest days of this time, with this pandemic.”
The government has brought in stricter public health orders three times in the last month to try to bend the curve. Schools in Winnipeg and some other areas moved to remote learning. Indoor social visits in private homes were banned, and public gatherings outdoors were capped at five people.
Indoor dining at restaurants and food courts has also been banned under current public health orders, set to last until at least the end of May.
The demand for intensive care has risen so sharply, three patients were sent to Thunder Bay, Ont., this week to free up beds. The number of people in intensive care hit a record 131 Wednesday before dropping to 125 the next day. Before the pandemic, Manitoba’s capacity was 72.
An official with the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, where the three patients were sent, told Global News room can be made for as many as 20 Manitoba patients at hospitals throughout Northern Ontario, if needed.
Pallister said dozens of nurses are also being trained up for intensive care duties and redirected from other areas of the health system.
The Opposition New Democrats said the government had plenty of warning that the third wave of the pandemic was coming and failed to prepare.
They pointed out that many doctors in the province urged the government three weeks ago to enact tougher public health orders to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
“What is taking place in hospitals right now is not only disturbing, it’s very dangerous — moving people hundreds of kilometres because this government failed to invest … in intensive care,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in the legislature.
Manitoba has also had the highest per-capita rate of new COVID-19 infections in the country in recent days.
Since March 2020, 1,019 Manitobans with COVID-19 have died and 46,916 people have contracted the virus.
–With files from Steve Lambert at The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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