Winnipeg braces for possible new pandemic restrictions coming this week

People in Winnipeg are bracing for the possibility of added public health measures this week, after Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin suggested on Christmas Eve that change was on the way.

That announcement came at an impromptu news conference, where Roussin warned Manitobans to prepare to hear about more restrictions “in the coming days.” 

It also came days after the province’s latest pandemic rules, which brought new capacity limits across Manitoba, came into effect.

“We’re looking at this by the hour,” Roussin said. “Manitobans need to prepare that next week, we probably won’t have large gatherings.”

Roussin spoke alongside Health Minister Audrey Gordon at the last-minute announcement on Friday to urge people to consider cutting their contacts down to even less than what’s allowed over the holidays.

“We may be coming back out very soon, much sooner than Manitobans would like, if we’re not getting the co-operation that we need to to keep the surge down and ensure that the health and well-being of all Manitobans are protected during this pandemic,” Gordon said.

“And I think they can expect that next week will look very different.”

Restaurant owners frustrated

Geoffrey Young, who owns Kum Koon Garden restaurant on Winnipeg’s King Street, said he’s worried about what new rules might be on the way for already struggling restaurants.

People are panicked about coming to work because of COVID-19, Young said, and parties are cancelling for the coming week.

“We have [had] a very tough two years — very, very tough,” Young said.

“It’s not just for me, it’s for all restaurant owners. First you suffer from the COVID, you lost all your business [and] even if you do takeout you won’t cover the normal expenses. 

“Whatever happens, we have to face it. That’s all we can do.”

Robel Arefaine said he’s barely had any in-person customers over the weekend at Kokeb Restaurant on Edmonton Street. Usually, he’s packed on Christmas Eve.

Arefaine said without government subsidy programs, he would have had to close. And he’s not looking forward to how new rules could affect his restaurant.

“My business is going to be dead again,” he said.

‘We’ll get through all this’

At The Forks in Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon, Courtney Dyck and Carlos Perez weren’t surprised that new rules were likely on the way.

“[I] just hope that everybody follows it, really,” Perez said.

Courtney Dyck and Carlos Perez say they think it makes sense that the province is eyeing new restrictions as new COVID-19 cases surge in Manitoba. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“The experts are saying it for a reason, so just as long as people listen, we should be good and hopefully get out of this thing by mid-next year.”

Meanwhile, Christine Longford and Sandy Debreuil said they’re prepared to weather whatever storm new restrictions bring.

“We’ll get through all this. It’ll be over soon,” Longford said.

Christine Longford and Sandy Debreuil say they weren’t surprised to hear new rules might be coming soon for Manitoba. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Jonathan Torchia wasn’t surprised to hear new rules are likely coming, either.

“If anyone thinks it’s shocking it’s kind of like, ‘Well, where have you been living the last couple years?'” he said.

“I just think we’ve just got to get [through] this last maybe hopeful push. And I know we’ve been saying that for a while now, but we’re so close.”

And Herby Cadet and Jane Park said they cancelled their New Year’s Eve dinner plans because of the current restrictions and public health recommendations in Manitoba.

“It’s unfortunate, but I think it needs to be done,” Cadet said.

Herby Cadet and Jane Park cancelled their plans for New Year’s Eve because of public health recommendations to limit close contacts in Manitoba. (Travis Golby/CBC)

As for any new rules, Park said they’re likely needed to control the spread of COVID-19 Winnipeg in particular is seeing right now.

“It’s to protect everybody,” she said.

More rules needed: doctor

One Winnipeg geriatrician said he thought Manitoba would be “in for a very rough ride” come January without any added restrictions.

Even before the arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant in the province, Dr. Philip St. John said high levels of COVID-19 in the community and a backlog of surgical and diagnostic procedures were already putting stress on the health-care system.

“I think the optimistic scenario is that there won’t be a huge surge from Christmas gatherings and Omicron, and even in that scenario, I don’t feel too optimistic about things. It’ll continue on at this level of stress,” he said last week, after Manitoba announced its latest set of rules.

“It’s fairly clear to me that the best case scenario is quite distressing.”

Hospitals in Manitoba continue to buckle under the strain of rising COVID-19 cases in the province. (Mikaela MacKenzie/The Canadian Press)

St. John said the earlier new restrictions are brought in, the less severe they’ll have to be to actually work.

“You’ve got an exponential curve. So the earlier on the curve that you act, the more effect [those restrictions] have. By the time the house is on fire, it’s more difficult to put out,” he said.

“The question is: do we act in time or do we act too late?”

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