'Omicron is here, rapidly spreading': Roussin urges curtailed holiday plans as daily COVID-19 record set
Further public health restrictions should be expected next week, Roussin says
It is imperative that Manitobans adjust their holiday plans, scaling them back yet again, as daily COVID-19 numbers reached a record level on Friday, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.
The Omicron coronavirus variant is sweeping through the province and case numbers will further increase strain on the health-care system if they remain high, he said.
Demands on Manitoba's COVID-19 testing system and the related wait times for tests and results have increased the backlog to 10,000 samples. Because of that, the 742 new cases reported in Manitoba Friday is actually an underestimate, Roussin said.
"And given that we're still learning about Omicron, we cannot rely on some of the reports of Omicron being less severe," he said.
Anyone planning multiple gatherings is being urged to cut that back to one. Though current health orders allow for up to 10 vaccinated visitors inside a home, not counting the people that live there, Roussin is pleading with people to scale that back.
"We need to adjust our plans on the go here because we're seeing rapid transmission of Omicron throughout the province," he said.
WATCH | Reconsider in-person events over coming days, Manitobans told:
Anyone with a higher risk of severe outcomes from the virus — those over 60 and anyone with underlying medical conditions — "should not be attending gatherings this weekend," he said.
"[It's] not what anyone wanted to hear during yet another holiday season but it is what we have to deal with. Omicron is here, rapidly spreading."
The daily COVID-19 case numbers in Manitoba climbed from 200 on Monday to 302 on Tuesday, 400 on Wednesday, 556 on Thursday and now close to 750 for Friday.
New restrictions coming?
Asked why he doesn't implement more strict public health orders, Roussin said the latest ones just came into effect earlier this week, "and we're looking at this by the hour."
It's quicker to pivot with messaging than full orders, though the province will be considering what else can be done, he said.
It was pointed out that Boxing Day shopping will be happening as normal on Sunday — since no retail restrictions, outside of two-metre distancing, are in place — and some 7,500 fans could possibly attend the Winnipeg Jets game on Monday.
Asked how that is congruent with his plea, Roussin suggested that is about to change.
"Manitobans need to prepare that next week, we're not going to be having large gatherings," he said.
He was then asked if that means the province is prepping new orders at the moment, to be in place for Monday. Roussin would only say "we need to be cognizant that we just hit a daily high record of cases, so we need to be preparing to not be having these types of large gatherings as early as next week."
Pressed repeatedly for more information on whether new restrictions are definitely coming and what is being considered, Roussin only restate his message that people need to do whatever they can to decrease their contacts.
He also addressed the fact that many businesses are advertising New Year's Eve parties and selling tickets for those events, saying those places "need to really … prepare that those type of things are not going to be able to occur."
Asked if she is concerned the health-care system could be overwhelmed by next month, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said officials are "in the midst of incident command planning."
Meetings were held Thursday night and another was planned for Friday "around what can we do to ensure that we protect access to health-care services," she said.
Gordon was also asked why Premier Heather Stefanson hasn't been front-and-centre on the COVID-19 situation.
"I have the full confidence of the premier, as does Dr. Reimer and Dr. Roussin, to communicate to Manitobans how urgent it is that they follow the public health orders," Gordon said.
Not good enough, says NDP
The Opposition NDP endorsed Roussin's message but said the PC government has not gone far enough in protecting Manitobans.
"I realize that this is extraordinarily frustrating for everyone who's already scaled back their plans once this year. However, I want to encourage everyone across Manitoba to follow the advice that Dr. Roussin shared today, given the absolutely critical crisis in our hospital system right now," party Leader Wab Kinew said.
"To do anything else, I think, would be irresponsible. We didn't give up on two Christmases in a row, we didn't sacrifice innumerable gatherings, we didn't miss out on those funerals for people that we cared about only to let our guard down now."
Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP's health critic, said it's disappointing, however, that Roussin didn't offer more information on what people can expect.
"He alluded to restrictions being increased sooner than later but provided no clarity as to what that might look like. Manitobans need … as much information as possible to make informed decisions," Asagwara said.
Kinew also criticized Stefanson for not being present.
"This is inexcusable. At a time when their government is asking Manitobans to sacrifice more, the premier of Manitoba should be available to underline the severity of that message … and tell us what the plan is," he said.
"Audrey Gordon is not the one who put her name forward to become the premier of Manitoba, Heather Stefanson did."
'Assume you have Omicron' if symptoms appear
The surge in daily cases has resulted in long lines at test sites and prolonged waits for results, which has likely discouraged some people from even going. All of that makes it harder to get an exact picture of the true case counts.
To help alleviate some of the test waits, Roussin is asking that only high-risk people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms go to a testing site.
"Younger Manitobans, those under age 40, and those without underlying medical conditions, if you have respiratory symptoms — cold-like symptons, flu-like symptons — you can assume you have Omicron," he said. "Stay home and isolate [for 10 days]. You don't necessarily need to go get tested."
Things were expected to get even worse on Friday after one of the drive-up testing sites was forced to close due to issues with the entry doors.
Please be advised the COVID-19 testing site at 1284 Main St. (MPI drive-through site) will be closed the remainder of the day today, Dec. 24, due to an accident involving one of the entrance doors and a malfunction with another.<br><br>We apologize for these truly unfortunate events.—@WinnipegRHA
Anyone who has someone in their social network who recently tested positive, who is awaiting test results or who is at home with symptoms, "you should consider yourself a contact [and] you shouldn't go to a group gathering," Roussin said.
"We're going to need to pay a lot of attention to what's going on around us. Don't put other people at risk.
"We always have a lot of control at our hands but it does require us changing a lot of our plans."
Ontario on Friday also reported a new record for daily COVID-19 cases as that province saw 9,571 cases. Two days ago, Ontario's pandemic high was 4,812.