Manitoba further restricts social visits and store openings during pandemic

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is tightening restrictions even further on stores and social gatherings in another attempt to bring down the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in Canada.

Starting Friday and until Dec. 11, in-store sales will be limited to a list of essential items set by the province. Online sales and curbside pickup of non-essential goods will be allowed to continue.

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Some of the essential items on the list are food, diapers, hardware, and outdoor winter clothing such as jackets and boots. It does not include other clothing — such as sweaters and shirts — or sports equipment or consumer electronics.

The province already had a 25 per cent capacity limit for most retailers, but is toughening that further for large stores by putting on a 250-person maximum.

The chief public health officer said the crackdown is needed to try to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

"We're critical right now, where our hospitals are at with capacity," Dr. Brent Roussin said Thursday. "We have to take these drastic measures to ensure our health-care system is not overwhelmed."

The province reported 475 new COVID-19 cases and eight additional deaths. Hospitals have expanded their capacity in recent weeks, but the demand for intensive care beds has risen almost as sharply.

Starting Saturday, retailers will have to physically close off areas that contain non-essential goods. They were given an extra day to work out the logistics. The Retail Council of Canada said that is still a tight time frame.

"There will be a period of time of understanding precisely what is essential and not essential, even within the defined list that's been published," said John Graham, the council's director of government relations for the Prairies.

The province is also tightening a previous public health order that allowed people to invite up to five non-household members into their homes.

Starting Friday, no visitors will be allowed in most cases. There will be exceptions for people needing health services, child care, tutoring or renovations. Another exemption will allow people who live alone to socialize with one visitor and to visit that person's home as well.

The Progressive Conservative government has already stepped up its enforcement of public health orders. Earlier this week, Premier Brian Pallister announced a private security firm had been hired to bolster the ranks of police, bylaw officers and others who hand out tickets. It also established a new $298 fine for not wearing a mask in indoor public places.

Pallister called on Manitobans to abide by the rules.

"There just aren't enough police in the world to help you do the right thing ... we need everybody onside."

The second wave of the pandemic has hit especially hard in long-term care homes across the province. Members of the military were preparing Thursday to help with an outbreak that has infected all 28 residents at the Rod McGillivary Memorial Care Home on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas.

"They've sent in a reconnaissance team to do an assessment ," Onekanew (Chief) Christian Sinclair said.

"They're going to augment the staffing ... with a couple of nurses and some health-care aides."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020.

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