Manitoba extends health regulations for another 3 weeks

Manitoba’s public health orders will be extended for another three weeks, Health Secretary Audrey Gordon said.

The rules, first announced last month and set to expire on Tuesday, will now last until at least February 1, Gordon said in a press release on Friday.

Current county rules restrict gatherings, with higher limits for groups where everyone has been vaccinated. They’ve also cut capacity limits in half in most other places, from restaurants and casinos to gyms and theaters.

The extension gives the province time to collect data and monitor the effects of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the release said.

The highly contagious strain has contributed to skyrocketing cases in the province, which continues to report record-breaking daily cases that are likely only a fraction of the true number of infections.

That undercount happens because the spike in cases has overwhelmed Manitoba’s testing capacity.

On Friday, the province was still working on a backlog of about 6,000 samples. Earlier this week, it also announced that PCR testing will be offered only to certain groups in an effort to maintain the ability to conduct testing.

“Ongoing restrictions are a challenge for many Manitobans, but remain necessary to slow the spread of the virus and protect our health care system,” Gordon said in the press release.

“While these orders remain in effect, we will continue to take steps to improve the delivery of and access to tests and other key initiatives that support our pandemic response and protect our health system.

“Nothing is off the table and we will act quickly in the coming weeks if further action is needed to protect Manitobans.”

Hospital admissions among COVID-19 patients have risen in the past week, from 192 to 297 in the past week alone. But the number of those patients who ended up in intensive care units has remained relatively stable, the release said. The number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU has risen from 30 to 34 in the past week.

The province said it will continue to monitor Omicron cases, their impact on the health care system and outcomes in Manitoba as well as other jurisdictions.

Manitoba remains at the limited or orange level of its pandemic response system, the release said.

A full list of the rules that will remain in effect through February is available on the county’s website.

Business Support

Shaun Jeffrey, the CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said he hopes the expanded rules will also extend a provincial support program for businesses affected by the restrictions.

“We are now locked in for another three weeks and we are looking to them to help us support our industry as we continue to try to curb this wave of Omicron [cases]’ said Jeffrey.

“We will need the support now more than ever.”

Last month, Manitoba announced $22 million in grants to businesses needed to lower capacity limits under the province’s latest pandemic rules, including restaurants, gyms and theaters.

At the time, Secretary of Economic Development and Jobs Jon Reyes said applications would be accepted until the end of January, but that deadline could be pushed back if public health regulations are extended.

The province did not announce an extension of the program when asked Friday, but said it “continues to be committed to partnering with businesses across the province … as they face challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Jeffrey said the challenges restaurants face have been exacerbated by pandemic rules forcing them to halve capacity and end liquor sales by 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, Manitoba’s rising case count and strained testing capacity have exacerbated staffing problems.

Shaun Jeffrey is the CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“All of these things play into how companies survive. Because they can’t survive if they don’t have people going to them, and they can’t survive if they don’t have people to work in them,” he said. , adding that smaller businesses have been hit particularly hard of late.

“Those restaurants have to make very difficult decisions… [about whether] it is even feasible to operate or not.”

Some have chosen to close for a month, he said, “until we get back to a point where we can operate in a way that will be somewhat beneficial to the industry.”

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