12 coronavirus variant cases found in 3 Manitoba health regions

The Northern Health Region is now the only region in the province that has not yet reported any coronavirus variant cases.

Highly contagious variant cases announced in Winnipeg, Southern, Prairie Mountain health regions on Thursday

A swab is taken at a temporary COVID-19 testing site in this file photo. Manitoba has done more than 550,000 tests for the illness since early February 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Highly contagious coronavirus variants have now been reported in all but one of Manitoba's health regions, the province said on Thursday, shortly after officials announced COVID-19 pandemic restrictions could be loosened over the next few weeks.

Of the 12 latest variant cases reported in Manitoba, 11 were the B117 strain first identified in the U.K., bringing Manitoba's total known cases of that variant to 63. Nine of those cases were in the Winnipeg health region and two were in the Southern Health region, the province said in a news release.

Manitoba also announced on Thursday another case of the B1351 variant first detected in South Africa, this time in its Prairie Mountain Health region. That brought the province's total known cases of that variant to 13. 

Of Manitoba's 76 coronavirus variant cases identified to date, all but four have been in the Winnipeg region.

The Northern Health Region is now the only one of Manitoba's five health regions that has not yet reported a variant case, though that part of the province continues to make up most of Manitoba's new COVID-19 cases overall. On Thursday, almost half the new infections reported — 42 of 91 — were in the north, the release said.

Earlier Thursday, Manitoba's top doctor said while there are risks involved when looking at easing restrictions, there are also risks that come with leaving strict rules in place for too long.

"We're constantly trying to find that right balance, knowing that we just can't live in a lockdown forever. And this virus isn't going to be going away in two months, either," Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference alongside Premier Brian Pallister.

"We have to find ways to have the least restrictive means possible."

Roussin said Manitoba has been taking a more aggressive approach to identify and follow-up with COVID-19 cases and their close contacts since it announced its first variant case last month. The province also recently introduced new rules to try to curb the number of cases and contacts.

And while the proportion of variant cases in the province is "still relatively small," he said, there could come a time when one of those more contagious strains becomes the dominant one in the province. At that point, Manitoba's approach would change even more.

"Once we hit a certain threshold — and it'll depend on a number of things, what that threshold is — then we just start treating every case as a variant of concern, rather than trying to wait for the screening," he said.

"Right now, it's too early to do that."

Test positivity rate climbs

The province also reported one more COVID-19 death on Thursday: a woman in her 60s linked to the outbreak at the Portage District General Hospital in Portage la Prairie. Manitoba's total number of coronavirus-linked deaths is now 918.

The Winnipeg-area health region also reported 33 more cases, while the remaining new infections are in the Prairie Mountain and Southern health regions (each with six) and the Interlake-Eastern Health region with four, the province's news release said.

Manitoba's five-day test positivity rate rose to 4.7 per cent, the release said, up from 4.4 on Wednesday. In Winnipeg, that rate is 3.6 per cent, up from 3.4 since Wednesday.

As of Thursday, Manitoba has given out less than two-thirds — 118,068 of 193,760 — of the vaccine doses it has received so far, the province's online vaccine dashboard said. Roughly 7.4 per cent of adults in Manitoba have now been fully vaccinated.

There are now 146 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Manitoba, down by three since Wednesday. There are also two more people with the illness in intensive care, for a total of 23.

There have now been 33,085 COVID-19 cases identified in Manitoba, including 31,078 people deemed recovered and 1,089 still considered active, though health officials have said that number may be inflated by a data entry backlog.

There were 2,473 COVID-19 tests done in Manitoba on Wednesday, the release said.


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