Manitoba ICUs could be overwhelmed during 4th wave without more vaccinations, modelling suggests

The province's most extreme projected scenarios for the fourth wave of COVID-19 — if no measures were put in place to control it and with current vaccination rates — would see intensive care units overwhelmed within weeks, Manitoba modelling suggests.

Delta variant at least 50% more transmissible than highly contagious alpha variant

A health care worker in an emergency department is pictured.
A patient suspected of having COVID-19 is brought into a resuscitation bay in the adult emergency department at the Health Sciences Centre. New provincial modelling suggests the delta variant will lead to many more hospitalizations if more people aren't vaccinated. (Mikaela MacKenzie/Winnipeg Free Press/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba's most extreme projected scenarios for the fourth wave of COVID-19 — if no measures were put in place to control it and with current vaccination rates — could see intensive care units overwhelmed within weeks, provincial modelling suggests.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba's deputy chief public health officer, unveiled pandemic modelling on Tuesday that the province used to inform its decision to make vaccines mandatory for certain workers and bring back compulsory masks in indoor public places.

"Under the extreme scenario, the model shows that COVID-19 could overwhelm the acute-care system within two months after a fourth wave begins," Atwal said during an online news conference on Tuesday.

Even just one month after the fourth wave begins in the province, modelling projects that 80 ICU beds could be needed for COVID-19 patients alone, he said. 

The normal pre-pandemic baseline for critical care beds was 72, Shared Health has said.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba's deputy chief provincial public health officer, presented long-awaited COVID-19 modelling that includes the highly transmissible delta variant. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Not enough Manitobans are vaccinated to protect the health-care system from being overwhelmed by the extremely transmissible delta variant without other precautions being taken, Atwal said.

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At this point, roughly one-third of Manitobans aren't vaccinated, either because they're unwilling or not eligible to get the shot, he said.

As of Tuesday, 70.7 per cent of all Manitobans, including children who aren't eligible for vaccination, have had their first dose of the vaccine and 65.3 per cent have had both, based on totals from the province's online vaccine dashboard and Statistics Canada's most recent population estimate.

Of the 27 new COVID-19 cases announced on Monday, 21 were in unvaccinated people, Atwal said. The vaccine doesn't necessarily stop you from catching the virus, but it prevents the vast majority of severe outcomes. 

Delta is significantly more contagious than the original strain of coronavirus.

Some experts suggest delta may be spreading 50 per cent faster than the alpha variant first found in the U.K. — and that variant is considered 50 per cent more infectious than the original strain.

Whatever happens during the fourth wave is also in the hands — or arms — of Manitobans, Atwal says.

"We aren't seeing people who are doubly vaxxed in hospital or in an ICU bed. What we're seeing is unvaccinated individuals coming into hospital. The best bet to prevent … overwhelming our acute-care system is to get vaccinated and to practise the fundamentals," Atwal said.

"If we get increased amounts of vaccination going forward, that will have a great impact."

'Pre-emptive action'

Manitoba's fourth wave projections come as other provinces unveil theirs, bracing for massive increases in cases and hospitalizations because of delta.

Premier Brian Pallister referenced those models at a news conference announcing new public health orders earlier on Tuesday, and expressed concern over what could be on the horizon in Manitoba.

"Saskatchewan has hit their highest COVID hospitalizations since the first half of June. Alberta, the daily number of new infections is up tenfold since July. Modelling projections have Alberta at 4,000 cases daily," he said.

"We're in a serious situation. We're taking pre-emptive action because we want to avoid the magnitude of what we saw in that third and second wave. All of us should work to make sure that we achieve that."

Provincial officials have been asked several times in recent weeks for local disease modelling predictions for Manitoba heading into fall that take into account the delta variant.

When reporters asked Atwal when that modelling was presented to the provincial government, he said he didn't have the date.


Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. In 2023, she was part of a team that won a Radio Television Digital News Association award for breaking news coverage of the killings of three Indigenous women, allegedly by a serial killer. Email story ideas to