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

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

The updated restrictions mean gatherings must not exceed 50% of the space’s usual capacity, or 250 people, whichever is lower. Just before Christmas, gathering restrictions were eased slightly for those vaccinated – they were set at 50% 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.

The number of Christmas Day cases marked the largest single-day increase the province has seen during 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 highly contagious variant of Omicron.

“We know we can’t rely on some of the reports that Omicron is less severe. With the amount of transmission we’re seeing, we’re going to see that demand translate into increased demand on the healthcare system,” Roussin said. . noted.

“We need to protect the health care system for everyone who needs it. All Manitobans need it, which means we need to reduce the amount of transmission we see with Omicron.

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The restrictions affect all indoor and outdoor gatherings, including religious gatherings, cultural events, theaters, restaurants, museums and art galleries, sports and recreation facilities, gymnasiums and ticketed indoor and outdoor sporting events. exteriors.

The true number of infections may be underrepresented

Roussin said the number of cases may underrepresent the true number of COVID-19 infections in Manitoba in light of long lines at testing sites and prolonged waits for results that may have discouraged some. people to go get tested at all.

Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate is 19% on Monday, down from 12.6% on Friday. In Winnipeg, the rate is 21.2%, down from 14.7% three days ago.

The increased limits are intended to ensure that all customers are properly distanced, Roussin said.

The province also requires restaurants and licensed establishments to end the sale of alcohol at 10 p.m.

The changes will take effect Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. and expire on January 11, 2022.

All other public health orders remain the same at this time.

“Roll the dice” on Omicron: NPD

Monday’s press conference was the first time Prime Minister Heather Stefanson had addressed the public in days. She was not present at the announcement of the new public health orders before Christmas, nor at an impromptu on Christmas Eve.

Stefanson said she’s been busy during these times, but has “tremendous confidence” in the public health officials she works with.

“Certainly we work as a team. I can’t be everywhere at all times,” she said.

“I will continue to do my part in all of this, whether on camera or behind the scenes. I will continue to work on behalf of Manitobans as Premier of this province.”

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

“It looks like they’re betting that our healthcare system [is] going to resist this push from Omicron,” he said. “We really need to take stronger action. I think most people who were paying attention expected the government to go further today.”

The Leader of the Opposition said minor changes announced on Monday could prevent children from completing the school year and participating in after-school activities.

“My worry is that it won’t do enough to stem the tide. We could see further disruption.”

New restrictions lead to event cancellations

On the heels of Monday’s orders, organizers of several high-profile shows and sporting events announced cancellations or postponements.

The NHL’s Winnipeg Jets have said they will postpone their Dec. 29 home game against Chicago and won’t allow fans into the Canada Life Center 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 team. of the Abbotsford Canucks.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet has announced that it is canceling performances on December 27 and 28 of Nutcracker in light of the growing number of cases.

“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 for canceled shows can be applied to a future ballet, donated to the RWB or refunded.”

The Assiniboine Park Zoo has announced that Monday night’s Zoo Lights show will be the last of the exhibit. People who had purchased tickets for future shows should look for an email regarding refunds, organizers said.

In Brandon, a Stars on ice The figure skating show scheduled for December 29 at the Keystone Center has also been postponed to a later date this winter. All purchased tickets would automatically transfer to that yet-to-be-determined date, organizers said.

Sara H. Byrd