‘Omicron is here, rapidly spreading’: Manitoba sets all-time daily COVID-19 record with close to 750 new cases

An all-time daily record of nearly 750 new COVID-19 cases will be reported in Manitoba on Friday, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says.

The full data on numbers will be released at 12:30 p.m. but as he predicted in mid-December, Roussin said Omicron is sweeping through the province.

The high numbers will further increase demands on the testing system and the related wait times for tests and results, he said, noting the current testing backlog is now 10,000 samples.

Because of that backlog, the Friday caseload is actually an underestimate, Roussin said.

“We have to expect this will put significant strain on our health-care system if we continue these case numbers at this rate,” he said.

“Given that we’re still learning about Omicron, we cannot rely on some of the reports of Omicron being less severe.”

People must do what they can to address the rising numbers “so it is imperative that Manitobans adjust their holiday plans yet again,” Roussin said.

Anyone planning multiple gatherings is being urged to cut that back to one. Though current health orders allow for up to 10 vaccinated visitors inside a home, not counting the people that live there, Roussin is pleading with people to scale that back.

“We need to adjust our plans on the go here because we’re seeing rapid transmission of Omicron throughout the province,” he said.

Anyone with a higher risk of severe outcomes from the virus — those over 60 and anyone with underlying medical conditions — “should not be attending gatherings this weekend,” he said.

“[It’s] not what anyone wanted to hear during yet another holiday season but it is what we have to deal with. Omicron is here, rapidly spreading.”

The daily COVID-19 case numbers in Manitoba climbed from 200 on Monday to 302 on Tuesday, 400 on Wednesday, 556 on Thursday and now close to 750 for Friday.

New restrictions coming?

Asked why he doesn’t implement more strict public health orders, Roussin said the latest ones just came into effect earlier this week, “and we’re looking at this by the hour.”

It’s quicker to pivot with messaging than full orders, though the province will be considering what else can be done, he said.

It was pointed out that Boxing Day shopping will be happening as normal on Sunday — since no retail restrictions, outside of two-metre distancing, are in place — and some 7,500 fans could possibly attend the Winnipeg Jets game on Monday.

Asked how that is congruent with his plea, Roussin suggested that is about to change.

“Manitobans need to prepare that next week, we’re not going to be having large gatherings,” he said.

He was then asked if that means the province is prepping new orders at the moment, to be in place for Monday. Roussin would only say “we need to be cognizant that we just hit a daily high record of cases, so we need to be preparing to not be having these types of large gatherings as early as next week.”

Pressed repeatedly for more information on whether new restrictions are definitely coming and what is being considered, Roussin only repeat his messaging that people need to do whatever they can to decrease their contacts.

‘Assume you have Omicron’

The surge in daily cases has resulted in long lines at test sites and prolonged waits for results, which has likely discouraged some people from even going. All of that makes it harder to get an exact picture of the true case counts.

To help alleviate some of the test waits, Roussin is asking that only high-risk people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms go to a testing site.

“Younger Manitobans, those under age 40, and those without underlying medical conditions, if you have respiratory symptoms — cold-like symptons, flu-like symptons — you can assume you have Omicron,” he said. “Stay home and isolate [for 10 days]. You don’t necessarily need to go get tested.”

Anyone who has someone in their social network who recently tested positive, who is awaiting test results or who is at home with symptoms, “you should consider yourself a contact [and] you shouldn’t go to a group gathering,” Roussin said.

“We’re going to need to pay a lot of attention to what’s going on around us. Don’t put other people at risk.

“We always have a lot of control at our hands but it does require us changing a lot of our plans.”

Ontario on Friday also reported a new record for daily COVID-19 cases as that province saw 9,571 cases. Two days ago, Ontario’s pandemic high was 4,812.

Boosters

The wait time for a third dose, or booster shot, of a COVID-19 vaccine is being reduced for some people in Manitoba.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province’s vaccine implementation task force, said those over 50, who have had two doses, can now get their booster once five months have passed since their second shot.

That is down from the previous six-month interval, which still applies for those under 50.

“Getting your booster dose is the best way to get your body ready to fight,” she said. “If you happen to come into contact with Omicron or any other variant, we want you to have those antibodies ready to go.”

In the past week there has been a 76 per cent increase in Manitobans getting their boosters, Reimer said. On Dec. 16, just 10.6 per cent of eligible people had received it. As of Thursday, that number was 18 per cent.

“When you get your booster dose, your body will be flooded with antibodies — even higher that what they were after your second dose.”

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