Most Manitoba students to continue remote learning as other COVID-19 restrictions extended
Existing closures, restrictions against gatherings of any kind extended 2 more weeks
Hundreds of Manitoba schools will remain in remote learning until at least June 7, and strict public health orders that prevent any social gatherings have been extended two more weeks.
Schools in Winnipeg, Brandon, Dauphin and the Red River Valley and Garden Valley school divisions will stick with remote learning until June 7 at a minimum. Dauphin schools will stay closed until June 9, said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer.
Extending remote learning and other restrictions comes weeks into a series of gradual yet widespread public health orders aimed at reducing close contacts and alleviating pressure from Manitoba hospitals.
A public health order forced schools in Winnipeg, Brandon and elsewhere to move to remote learning over two weeks ago. That order was set to expire on Sunday.
Roussin said the hope is still to get students back in school next month, before the end of the school year.
Manitoba Education Minister Cliff Cullen told reporters Thursday that there will be another announcement next week regarding the remaining weeks of the school year.
The news comes as Manitoba announced eight more COVID-19 deaths, the highest single-day death toll in months, and 297 new cases.
Manitoba has been averaging over 400 new cases a day for over two weeks and recently became the jurisdiction with the highest infection rate of any province or U.S. state.
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Hospitals are under siege and over two dozen Manitoba COVID-19 patients have been sent out of the province, primarily to Ontario, to receive critical care as intensive care units in the province maxed out.
"Our health-care system is under great strain," Roussin said.
Because of that, the province is extending existing public health restrictions until June 12.
That means no indoor or outdoor gatherings with people outside your household. The rule applies to playgrounds, golf courses, parks, sports fields and campgrounds.
Some exceptions apply, including for child care. People who live alone may also have one designated visitor over.
Retail businesses will be allowed to stay open at 10 per cent capacity or 100 occupants, whichever is lower.
The current public health orders have been tweaked to add new powers for public health to shut down businesses with multiple cases among staff, Roussin said.
Employers are also ordered to allow employees to work from home wherever possible.
Gyms, restaurants, bars, personal service businesses, museums, galleries and libraries will remain closed. Faith-based gatherings are still not allowed.
Malls remain open
Malls, which remain open, must prevent people from using the space to gather, Roussin said.
"These malls are not allowed to tolerate gathering within them," he said.
The changes largely extend existing restrictions, despite repeated calls from doctors and other health-care professionals for Manitoba to issue a stay-at-home order and close all non-essential businesses.
About 10 per cent of infections lately have been linked to workplaces, Roussin said.
"That's still significant," he said. "That may require temporary closures."
Pallister has said Manitoba has the strongest restrictions in place in the country.
He conceded on Thursday there are tighter restrictions on non-essential businesses in Ontario, where they remain closed.
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Asked whether Manitoba can expect to reopen in line with what other provinces have planned, Pallister said that depends on the public adhering to health orders and getting vaccinated as soon as possible.
"I am not going to be Pollyanna here," Pallister said. "We're in the middle of a really serious challenge."
Manitoba's hospitals have stretched to the brink, so much so that over two dozen patients have been shuttled to other provinces, primarily Ontario, in recent days."
Thousands of surgeries have been postponed as doctors and nurses typically assigned to surgery or medical units have been redeployed to keep up with the crush of COVID-19 patients.
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This week, a group of doctors raised alarms about the downstream effects of suspending surgeries, saying at least six cardiac patients have died recently while waiting for care. Manitoba was still chipping away at a surgery backlog from the second wave of the pandemic when the third wave hit.
Pallister pleaded for help from the federal government less than a week ago. Manitoba has been promised at least a dozen ICU nurses by the federal government, along with dozens of contact tracers and a few other experts from various federal agencies. Some of those resources were expected in Manitoba this week.
Meanwhile, officials continue to urge Manitobans to get vaccinated as soon as possible to help stem the third wave.
So far, 58.3 per cent of those age 12 and up have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Everyone 12 and up is now eligible for a first dose, and second dose appointments opened for some people late last week.
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With files from Nicholas Frew