Manitoba cracks down on visitors in homes, items sold in stores

Manitoba is clamping down harder on private gatherings and businesses selling non-essential items in an effort to slow the alarming rise in new coronavirus infections in the province.

New COVID-19 public health orders will forbid people from having anyone inside their home who doesn’t live there, with few exceptions, and prohibit businesses from selling non-essential items in stores.

Previous orders that came into effect last week allowed gatherings at private residences of up to five people beyond those who normally live there, although Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin and others pleaded with Manitobans to stay home and only go out for essential items.

“Despite that, we saw people gathering at rallies, we saw crowded parking lots at big box stores, we saw people continue to go out for non-essential items,” Roussin said at a news conference Thursday.

“So we’re left with no choice but to announced further measures to protect Manitobans, to limit the spread of this virus.”

Exceptions to the no visitors rule include parents who do not live with their child, people providing child care and other services deemed essential, such as education, construction or repairs, and deliveries.

Exceptions will also be made for people who live alone, who will be allowed to have one other designated person over, and they can also visit that one other person. 

Businesses that sell essential and non-essential items will be required to remove the non-essential goods from the shelves or rope off those areas.

The new orders also further restrict capacity at large retailers to either 25 per cent of normal capacity or a maximum of 250 people, whichever is lower.

The orders come into effect on Friday, except for the rule requiring businesses to prevent access to non-essential items, which comes into effect on Saturday. They will remain in effect until at least Dec. 11. 

Items deemed essential under the new orders include food, personal care and health products, baby and child-care items, outdoor winter clothing and pet supplies. Liquor and cannabis sales will also be permitted.

Non-essential items include books, toys, jewelry, flowers, perfume, consumer electronics and sporting equipment.

A complete list of essential and non-essential items is available on the provincial government’s website.

Under the earlier critical-level orders, only stores that sold essential items were allowed to remain open, but many of those businesses also sold non-essential items. 

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman called on the province to close that loophole and ban the sale of non-essential items.

The new restrictions on gatherings only apply to private residences. Existing public health orders limiting public gatherings to five people remain in effect.

Businesses must provide proof that the capacity limits have not been exceeded, if an enforcement official requests it, the province said.

Manitoba’s restrictions are the strongest in the country, but some people and businesses violated the “spirit” of the original orders, which made these stricter measures necessary, Premier Brian Pallister said.

“We all understand that the next few weeks are not going to be easy, but there is a reward waiting for us if we do the right things now,” Pallister said.

“The best thing we can do for our local businesses … to help them get back into business, is to beat COVID down.”

These new orders come as the per capita daily COVID-19 case numbers in Manitoba remain the highest in Canada, despite the government moving the entire province to critical, or red, the highest level on the pandemic response system.

There were 475 new cases and eight more deaths announced on Thursday.

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