Despite only testing people returning from international travel, Manitoba officials are confident the spread of COVID-19 is minimal in Manitoba.
“We have plans in place on what priority groups would we expand to next, but testing is not the only method of surveillance we have,” said Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said during the province’s March 23 update.
“We have syndromic surveillance, we have low ICU demands right now, lower demands in hospital beds, lower attendance for respiratory illness, so we follow all of these as well.”
Roussin announced a new probable case in Manitoba, a man in his 40s from Winnipeg. The number of cases in Manitoba remains at 20, as a previously listed probable COVID-19 case has proven to test negative for the disease.
“Testing is only one component of our strategy,” he said.
“Testing alone would not help us against COVID-19. We need all of our strategies working together and social distancing. Staying home when you're ill, if you are not tested for COVID-19, but you're sick, stay home until you're better.”
Roussin said the case officials did not link to travel was the case that has been ruled out as COVID-19.
There are 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, along with six probable cases. Probable cases have been tested only at the Cadham Provincial Laboratory in Winnipeg, with confirmed cases receiving federal confirmation.
Roussin said there was a backlog at Cadham due to an international shortage of reagent used in testing. Roussin added he hoped to expand testing to populations outside of recent international travellers, but a lack of supplies hasn’t allowed that to happen.
“Right now, the major roadblock is the reagent and that is worldwide,” Roussin said.
“All jurisdictions are having difficulties obtaining that reagent. The Cadham lab has been working at actually being able to produce their own, which is why they're now getting out of this backlog and getting back up to full capacity this week.”
Roussin strongly discouraged Manitobans against travelling outside the province and asked all interprovincial travellers to self-isolate for 14 days, but recognized border communities like Flin Flon are exempt from this recommendation.
“This recommendation regarding interprovincial travel does not include the commercial transportation of goods or service workers including healthcare workers who may live in neighbouring jurisdictions who travelled to or from Manitoba for work or normal personal travel in border communities for essential shopping or visits to the cottages,” he said.
“Now is not the time for non-essential travel outside of Manitoba.”
Some provinces are keeping a hard line for any interprovincial travel. Anyone travelling to Nova Scotia from outside the province is being stopped at the provincial border and asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
Roussin said he expected social distancing to continue for a longer period of time.
“It's unlikely we're going to have a pharmaceutical intervention in the near future, then we're looking at multiple weeks for sure,” he said.
“Anyone who says they know the number is guessing.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in his March 23 update that he would be talking with premiers across the country later in the day.
He added the federal government will be releasing new messaging about COVID-19 this week, and encouraged all Canadians to pay attention and practice social distancing. Images from across North America have spread across social media of people gathering in large numbers.
“Listening is your duty and staying home is your way to serve,” Trudeau said during the press conference. Trudeau, whose wife Sophie has tested positive for COVID-19, remains in self-isolation.
The Prime Minister said the House of Commons would pass announced legislation supporting Canadians through COVID-19 March 24.