‘Need to act now,’ top doctor says as holiday season gathering limits announced for Manitoba

New capacity restrictions for gatherings in Manitoba will take effect Tuesday, as the province works to blunt the effect of the Omicron variant ahead of the holiday season.

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced the new rules at a news conference with Health Minister Audrey Gordon on Friday.

Roussin said the latest measures were prompted by the rapid spread of the new coronavirus strain, which early data suggests spreads much more quickly than the Delta variant.

“All of our indications are that Omicron is here, it’s spreading and we need to act now,” he said.

The new rules, in place as of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, will affect gatherings for all Manitobans for three weeks, lasting until Jan. 11. They come as cases and hospitalizations linked to COVID-19 continue to rise in the province.

Private indoor gatherings will be limited to members of a household plus 10 people, if everyone over age 12 is vaccinated against COVID-19, Roussin said. 

For private indoor gatherings where even one person older than 12 is unvaccinated, the limit will be household members plus five others.

There’s no limit on how many can gather outdoors on private property, provided everyone 12 and older is vaccinated. If not, outdoor private gatherings are limited to households plus 10.

For public indoor gatherings, capacity will remain limited to 25 per cent or 25 people — whichever is lower — if anyone in attendance is unvaccinated. If everyone is vaccinated, there’s no capacity limit for public indoor gatherings.

In public outdoor places, only 50 people will be allowed to gather, Roussin said.

This is the first time since widespread vaccination has been available to Manitobans that the province has been forced to introduce a large set of measures that apply even to immunized people, Roussin said.

“It’s absolutely frustrating to be here again for all Manitobans,” he said. “We were left with little choice.”

Gyms, theatres, restaurants, licensed venues, libraries and museums will all have their capacity cut down to 50 per cent. Restaurant guests will have to stay seated, and a maximum of 10 people per table will be allowed at both licensed and unlicensed restaurants, Roussin said.

Faith-based gatherings that require people to show proof of vaccination will be limited to 50 per cent capacity. Those that don’t require people to be immunized will have the same rules as indoor public gatherings — 25 per cent capacity or 25 people, whichever is lower. Those rules apply across the province.

‘We were left with little choice,’ Roussin said of the restrictions announced late Friday. The new rules will stay in place for three weeks. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

Rules will change for indoor and outdoor sports, too. No tournaments will be allowed. While games and practices can go on, spectator capacity will be reduced to 50 per cent. 

Large indoor events will also be reduced to 50 per cent capacity, Roussin said.

That includes Canada Life Centre, which hosts Winnipeg Jets home games. In a statement later Friday, True North Sports & Entertainment said the team’s games on Dec. 27, Dec. 29, Jan. 8 and Jan. 10 will be affected by the new rules. No Manitoba Moose games are expected to be affected, the statement said.

Settings that previously required people to show proof of vaccination will still have to do so.

Read the province’s revised public health orders:

More Omicron cases coming: Roussin

The update comes after Manitoba reported 239 new COVID-19 cases earlier Friday, the province’s highest single-day increase since June.

The new fourth-wave high came after provincial modelling shared earlier this week suggested Manitoba could see 223 cases per day by Dec. 25, given the anticipated impact of the Omicron variant.

Those estimates also suggested the variant could lead to over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in the new year. 

“We need to delay the emergence of Omicron to give all Manitobans time to get their third dose and reduce the demands on our health-care system as much as possible,” Gordon said at the news conference.

The province has now reported eight cases of the recently identified coronavirus strain, though Roussin suggested that number will increase soon.

A lab scientist wearing a face mask and shield is pictured. Manitoba has only reported eight Omicron cases to date, but that number is likely to rise soon, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said. (Leah Hennel/Alberta Precision Laboratories)

“I don’t have specific numbers, but we have a significant amount of screened Omicron at this point. So we’re not going to be at eight [cases] very, very shortly,” he said.

“We are seeing very concerning numbers right now in many jurisdictions with Omicron and that’s why we need to take these actions now.”

It’s likely officials will be able to clearly say there’s community spread of the variant in Manitoba within a matter of days, Roussin said.

He warned Manitobans, particularly those over 60 and those with underlying medical conditions, to consider scaling back holiday plans and urged people to get their third COVID-19 vaccine dose as soon as they’re eligible.

“We’re disappointed, but we’re certainly not helpless,” he said.

Roussin said Manitoba has left a bit of leeway for pharmacies and doctors’ offices to decide whether to give people at a higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 — like those age 50 and up — their third vaccine doses slightly earlier than the six-month interval recommended for most other people.

“What we wanted to do is have as many of those higher-risk people eligible now, so before the holidays,” he said.

Roussin added that Manitoba will start diverting some resources from contact tracing toward the province’s vaccination campaign as it works to get ahead of the Omicron variant.

Earlier Friday, British Columbia and Ontario also announced new restrictions in response to that coronavirus variant — as did Prince Edward Island earlier this week.

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