Manitoba to expand gathering limits, allow more fans at events as COVID-19 restrictions ease next week

The province is planning on relaxing COVID-19 restrictions once the current public health orders expire next week, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said Wednesday. 

New public health orders come into effect next Tuesday

A sign at a shop lets people know masks are required. Public health orders in Manitoba will ease starting next Tuesday, officials said Wednesday. (Jill Toyoshiba/The Kansas City Star/The Associated Press)

Manitoba will relax COVID-19 restrictions once the current public health orders expire next week, allowing for larger private gatherings and higher capacity in public spaces for people who are fully vaccinated, Premier Heather Stefanson said Wednesday.

The new rules will come into effect starting Tuesday, Feb. 8, she said at a news conference with Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

Among the changes, indoor gatherings on private property will be allowed up to 25 people in addition to household members — up from the current 10 — provided everyone 12 and older is vaccinated.

If anyone over 12 is not vaccinated, the limit will be household members plus 10 — up from the current five.

For outdoor gatherings on private property, up to 50 fully vaccinated people will be allowed in addition to household members, up from the current limit of 20. If anyone 12 or older is unvaccinated, outdoor gatherings are limited to household plus 20 — up from 10.

As well, the province is lifting the 250-person maximum capacity for most venues, including professional sports or performing arts events, but keeping vaccination requirements for attendees. 

Venues will still be limited to a maximum 50 per cent capacity. 

Spectator capacity for indoor sports and recreation events — including dance, theatre and music schools — will also be allowed at up to 50 per cent, without a 250-person maximum.

Sports tournaments, which are not allowed under current rules, can go ahead again as of next week.

The 250-person cap has also been eliminated for gyms, museums, movie theatres and casinos, though they will still be under a 50 per cent capacity restriction, and must also require proof of vaccination.

A 250-person limit has also been lifted for religious services indoors, provided they are restricted to fully vaccinated people and those under 12. Those services are now allowed up to 50 per cent capacity.

If vaccination is not required, religious services can have up to 25 per cent capacity or 250 people, whichever is lower.

Risk 'will never be zero': Roussin

In addition, liquor sales will be allowed at restaurants and lounges until midnight, compared to the current 10 p.m. cutoff, while retail capacity limits will also be lifted in all regions of the province. Some communities in the Southern Health region with low vaccination rates have been under 50 per cent retail capacity limits for months. 

Restrictions for indoor and outdoor gatherings in public spaces remain unchanged. For indoor public gatherings, the limit is the lower of 50 per cent capacity or 250 people, provided all are vaccinated. Otherwise, the limit is 25 per cent capacity or 25 people.

Outdoor gatherings limited to vaccinated people are allowed up to 50 per cent capacity or 250 people. If anyone is unvaccinated, the limit is 50 people.

These new restrictions will be in place until at least Feb. 22, after which the province may loosen restrictions further, Stefanson said.

She said the intent is to implement a gradual loosening of capacity restrictions and other measures by spring, while learning to live with COVID-19.

Roussin said he recognizes the need to protect vulnerable Manitobans, but that the risk "will never be zero."

"You never want to downplay the tragedy of of all of these events. But moving forward, we do have to find ways out of these public health restrictions, because we know we're always going to have challenges [for] some of the sickest Manitobans," he said. 

"And so we definitely need to find ways to protect them, but it can't be to restrict the entire population forever. We've been at this for two years. At some point we have to find a way out of that."

The current public health orders first came into effect Dec. 21, in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Hospitalizations high but stabilizing: Roussin

Meanwhile, the number of people in Manitoba hospitals with COVID-19 was 744 Wednesday, seting a new record for the third day in a row.

Though COVID-19 transmission hospitalizations in the province are still high, there are some indicators Manitoba is heading in the right direction, Roussin said.

"We are getting a better understanding of where we are in this wave," he said at Wednesday's news conference.

Provincial modelling data suggests hospitalizations have likely already peaked, while ICU admissions are close to hitting their peak. 

Last week, Roussin presented data showing that hospital admissions due to the illness had decreased nine per cent in the week prior, dropping from 391 to 356, and ICU admissions dropped 22 per cent, from 46 to 36.

Of all COVID-19-positive patients in hospital, Roussin said Wednesday about 40 per cent are there specifically because of the virus, while the remaining 60 per cent are people receiving treatment for other conditions who also tested positive for COVID-19.

Those numbers were determined by reviewing patient charts and looking at the reason for admission, Roussin said. 

"All those people that are admitted still put that strain on our health-care providers, but it's important for us as public health looks at our need for restrictions [to look at] who is there for COVID."

Some doctors, though, have criticized that distinction, saying it is political exercise to distract people from how strained the health-care system is. 

'Not out of the woods yet': NDP

In response to questions about protecting vulnerable and immunocompromised Manitobans, the premier said she understands that while this is a challenging time, people can't live in fear. 

Stefanson was also asked if she had visited a hospital since becoming premier. She said she has not, because she did not want to risk spreading the coronavirus. 

"I certainly am not opposed to going and doing that. It's basically been out of an abundance of caution, I would say," she said at the news conference

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew slammed Stefanson's comments and her government's approach to reducing restrictions, noting January was one of the deadliest months of the pandemic yet. 

"We're not out of the woods yet and I feel like, when you reopen at a time when hospitalizations continue to climb, then it makes it likely that you're not actually going to be at the peak yet," he said.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Feb. 2, 2022:

Manitoba government daily briefing on coronavirus: Feb. 2

2 years ago
Duration 48:35
Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022.