Manitoba

Manitoba reduces capacity limits for all public gatherings as Omicron cases skyrocket

Manitoba is reducing capacity limits for all indoor and outdoor public gatherings in response to skyrocketing COVID-19 cases linked to the highly contagious Omicron variant. The province is also requiring restaurants and licensed premises to end liquor sales at 10 p.m.

Province also now requiring liquor sales to end at 10 p.m. as of Tuesday

Drivers line up for COVID-19 testing in Winnipeg last week. As cases surge and the Omicron variant spreads, Manitoba officials on Monday introduced new restrictions on gatherings after reporting 2,154 new cases of COVID-19 since Christmas Eve. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Manitoba is reducing capacity limits for all indoor and outdoor public gatherings in response to skyrocketing COVID-19 cases linked to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The updated restrictions mean gatherings must not exceed 50 per cent of the usual capacity of the space, or 250 people, whichever is less. Just before Christmas, gathering restrictions were slightly more relaxed for people who are vaccinated — they were set at 50 per cent but with no capacity limit.

The updated orders come after Manitoba reported 2,154 new cases of COVID-19 since Christmas Eve, including 785 cases on Saturday, 694 cases on Sunday and 675 cases on Monday.

Christmas Day's case numbers marked the highest single-day increase the province has seen over the course of the pandemic to date.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson joined Dr. Brent Roussin to announce the updated public health orders on Monday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, said at least three-quarters of all cases in the province are linked to the extremely contagious Omicron variant.

"We know we can't rely on some of the reports of Omicron being less severe. With the amount of transmission we're seeing, we're going to see that demand translating into increased demand on the health-care system," Roussin said.

"We need to protect the health-care system for everyone who needs it. All Manitobans need it, which means we need to decrease the amount of transmission we're seeing with Omicron."

WATCH | Manitoba's top doctor on people waiting for test results but not isolating: 

Manitoba chief public health officer speaks about people who are waiting on test results but not isolating

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Dr. Brent Roussin urged Manitobans to stay home and isolate if they are waiting on test results, despite delays and a testing backlog.

The restrictions affect all indoor and outdoor gatherings, including religious gatherings, cultural events, theatres, restaurants, museums and art galleries, sporting and recreational facilities, gyms and indoor and outdoor ticketed sporting events.

True number of infections may be underrepresented

Roussin said case numbers could be underrepresenting the true number of Manitoba's COVID-19 infections in light of long lines at test sites and extended waits for results that may have discouraged some people from going to get tested at all.

Manitoba's five-day test positivity rate is 19 per cent as of Monday, up from 12.6 per cent on Friday. In Winnipeg, that rate is 21.2 per cent, up from 14.7 per cent three days ago.

The increased limits are meant to ensure all patrons are properly distanced, Roussin said.

The province is also requiring restaurants and licensed premises to end the sale of liquor at 10 p.m.

The changes will come into effect on Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. and will expire on Jan. 11, 2022.

All other public health orders are staying the same at this point.

'Rolling the dice' on Omicron: NDP

Monday's news conference was the first time Premier Heather Stefanson has addressed the public in days. She was not present at the announcement of new public health orders before Christmas, nor at an impromptu one on Christmas Eve.

Stefanson said she was busy during those times but has "tremendous confidence" in the public health officials she works with.

"Certainly we work together as a team. I can't be everywhere at every time," she said.

"I'll continue to do my part in all this, whether I'm in front of the camera or behind the scenes. I'll continue to work on behalf of Manitobans as the premier of this province."

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he believes the province is "rolling the dice" by not taking stronger measures when it comes to the health of Manitobans.

"It seems like they're gambling that our health-care system [is] going to withstand this surge of Omicron," he said. "We need to really take stronger steps. I think most people who were paying attention expected the government to go further today."

The Opposition leader said the minor changes announced Monday might keep children from finishing the school year and participating in extracurricular activities.

"My concern is that's not going to do enough to stem the tide. We may see further disruptions."

New restrictions prompt event cancellations

In the wake of Monday's orders, organizers of several high-profile shows and sporting events announced cancellations or postponements. 

The NHL's Winnipeg Jets said they would postpone their Dec. 29 home game against Chicago and not permit fans into the Canada Life Centre until at least Jan. 11. 

The Manitoba Moose hockey club, which also plays at the downtown arena, said games scheduled for Dec. 30 and 31 would also be postponed, citing American Hockey League COVID-19 protocols affecting the Abbotsford Canucks team.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet announced it was cancelling Dec. 27 and 28 performances of The Nutcracker in light of climbing case counts. 

"It breaks our hearts to lose this holiday tradition but the health of our artists, patrons, staff and students remains our top priority," the company said in a statement on Twitter. "Tickets to cancelled shows can be applied towards a future ballet, donated to the RWB, or refunded." 

The Assiniboine Park Zoo announced Monday evening's Zoo Lights show would be the exhibit's final one. People who had purchased tickets for future shows should look for an email regarding refunds, organizers said. 

In Brandon, a Stars on Ice figure-skating show slated for Dec. 29 at the Keystone Centre was also postponed to a date later in the winter. All tickets purchased would automatically transfer to that yet-to-be-determined date, organizers said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

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