Manitoba lockdown extended 2 weeks after 355 cases tied to holiday gatherings
Orders will now expire Jan. 22, include exemption to allow professional hockey
Manitoba's strict lockdown is extended for another two weeks as contact tracers uncover hundreds of COVID-19 cases linked to holiday gatherings.
More than 355 COVID-19 cases and nearly 1,900 contacts have been linked to gatherings during the winter holiday period, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday, as he announced the extension.
"We're not really ready to make those changes. We're still at risk in our system. We still have strain on the health-care system," he said.
"Our numbers were going in the right direction, but now we're at risk of reversing that, so we've got to keep focusing on those fundamentals."
The orders will now expire on Jan. 22 and include exemptions to allow the Winnipeg Jets to play games, in addition to training. The orders were previously set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday.
The bulk of the restrictions, which include a ban on most gatherings at homes — including in private yards — and public gatherings of more than five people, will stay in place until Jan. 22. Roussin said officials need that time to watch for further increases linked to the holidays.
In some cases, gatherings of more than two dozen people were reported.
WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin says cases linked to holiday gatherings led to continued restrictions:
"What we're concerned about here is, one, is the sheer number of cases, but more than that, it's the number of contacts," a number that's "always going to be an underestimate," Roussin said.
"[There are] 1,900 people who have been exposed to known cases of COVID [at holiday gatherings], who could be incubating that virus right now."
Strict restrictions 'challenging,' Roussin says
All of Manitoba was moved to the red, or critical, level on the province's pandemic response system in early November. Virtually all social gatherings at homes have been banned since Nov. 20.
Daily COVID-19 case numbers have generally dropped in recent weeks, but on Friday, Roussin said test positivity rates and hospitalization numbers remain high.
"We know these critical level or red restrictions have been challenging. We've been asking Manitobans to restrict your life for eight weeks, and that's certainly a long time," he said. "While we've seen some difference to our numbers, we have been worried about a spike following the holidays."
The gatherings reported over the holidays were primarily in private residences, ranging from one or two households to gatherings with more than 20 people, he said.
"You can't avoid this virus when you gather," he said. "When you gather, this is what we see."
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On Friday, Roussin said he doesn't support fining every person who violated the rules by gathering. That approach could deter others from being forthcoming with contact tracers about their movements, he said.
He said he's more supportive of fining people who violate orders to isolate after they've tested positive for COVID-19.
"It's really challenging times during the pandemic … but in many ways, it's brought us together as a province. We see that together is the only way we can manage this. And so we've seen many gestures of kindness, generosity during this pandemic, and then I think there's been mistakes, like we all make."
The province announced 222 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including 97 in the Winnipeg health region and 69 in the Northern Health Region.
There were also nine more deaths, the province said, including three that are linked to outbreaks at long-term care homes and one linked to an outbreak at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre.
The government will start consulting with Manitobans next week to get feedback on potential future changes if numbers drop, Roussin said.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew criticized Premier Brian Pallister for not attending the news conference where Roussin and Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, announced the extended restrictions.
"Being a leader is not just about being there on the good days," Kinew said. "It's also about showing up for Manitobans on tough days like this one."
'Strict protocols' for NHL: Roussin
On Friday, Roussin said a further extension of remote learning for Manitoba students is not off the table, nor is extending remote learning only for older children.
"We'll continue to follow these numbers. We'll see what sort of trajectory we get as a result of these holiday gatherings," he said. "But like we've always mentioned, there's the benefit of having kids back in school in person, and we have a lot of safeguards in place, and we haven't seen a lot of transmission in that setting."
With the new orders, Manitoba joins Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia in greenlighting the NHL's plan to resume play in Canada this season.
The exemptions in Manitoba will be extended to include other professionals involved in the sport, including administrative officials, broadcasters and scouts, Roussin said.
"This is able to occur because of the strict protocols being put in place by the NHL," he said.
WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin says NHL has 'robust' plan for safe play:
The current order will not allow play by the American Hockey League, he said, but it's not off the table and he'll have more to say in the future.
"The [AHL] plan is really identical to that of the NHL's, and so it's quite robust as well," he said.
"The timing right now is not something we're going to be … commenting on, but [it's] also a very robust plan."