Manitoba stays in code red level of pandemic restrictions but will allow larger outdoor gatherings
Province cites local feedback, variants and stability of the health-care system for move
Manitoba won't move down to orange-level COVID-19 pandemic restrictions after spending more than four months in the red zone, the province said on Tuesday.
The decision to keep the province at the highest level of restrictions during the pandemic stemmed from feedback from Manitobans, concern over rising numbers of more transmissible coronavirus variants, and the need to maintain stability in the health-care system, the province said.
However, some changes will take effect at 12:01 a.m. local time Friday, including increasing the limit on outdoor gatherings at public places, weddings and funerals to 25 people from 10 currently. Maximum capacity at retail stores will rise to 500 people from 250 people at present, although stores still may not exceed 50 per cent capacity.
The loosening of restrictions on outdoor gatherings doesn't apply to private yards and there will be no changes to rules around visitors inside homes. Manitobans must choose either one household, or two individuals, as designated visitors to their homes. Up to 10 people, in addition to the residents of a home, are allowed to gather outside on private property.
"We know that prolonged contact had been a significant factor in the beginning of our second wave," Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
"We still need to be cautious with our approach.… We see a recent slow increase in the case numbers. We see an increasing proportion of our cases related to variants of concern."
Among other changes, people will also be allowed to leave their vehicles while attending drive-in events, as long as they follow all other public health rules.
Restrictions on gatherings, including funerals, have had a significant impact on people grieving the loss of a loved one, Roussin said.
"We thought that this was another way to very slowly, very cautiously reopen and get back to more things. But we can't do it all at once," he said.
The increasing number of COVID-19 cases involving variants of concern also affected the province's timing, Roussin said.
"We are in a race towards summer, we are at a race towards getting many Manitobans vaccinated, and we're in a race against the third wave," he said.
"And the more we see variants of concern in our province, the more at risk we are of that third wave before we get people vaccinated."
WATCH | Manitoba in a race against a third pandemic wave:
More changes could be considered after spring break, Passover and Easter. Manitoba's second wave of the pandemic, which saw the highest numbers of daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths, began shortly after Thanksgiving and Roussin said a repeat of that spike must be avoided.
The new health orders announced Tuesday are set to expire on April 15.
An online survey posted last week to gauge the level of public comfort with the proposed changes and get feedback received around 32,000 responses, the province says.
Roughly half of respondents (53 per cent) supported increasing the limit for outdoor public gatherings to 25 people and 48 per cent supported the same increase for weddings and funerals, while 45 per cent supported increasing in-store capacity to 500, according to the province.
Among the respondents, 39 per cent said bigger changes should wait until after the spring holidays.
Restrictions on indoor dining, concerts unchanged
Premier Brian Pallister had suggested last week that Manitoba could leave the critical code red level of its pandemic response system and move into the orange, reopening more services and activities.
Other changes contemplated at the time but not implemented this week include expanded indoor restaurant dining criteria, permitting organized team games at indoor sporting facilities, and allowing indoor theatres, concert halls, casinos and gaming centres to open at limited capacity.
The province also floated the idea of removing the requirement for business travellers from other provinces who do not have symptoms to self-isolate for 14 days.
Increasing numbers of variant cases in other provinces in Canada prompted the delay in loosening travel restrictions, Roussin said.
The province will announce more support for businesses later in the week, Pallister said.
Manitoba's plan to stay in the code red level of restrictions comes the day after Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, announced they will not be moving to the third step in their reopening plan because of rising hospitalizations in that province.
Hospitalizations in Manitoba hit a low of 133 on March 20 after topping 400 in December, but have edged upward since then to 138 on Monday.
Case numbers in Manitoba have also started to trend upward again, with a seven-day average over 90 on Monday, after spending almost a week under 60 at the beginning of the month.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | March 23, 2021: