Manitoba extends public health orders for two weeks, few changes seen

Manitoba's public health orders have been renewed for two more weeks with minimal changes.

The province announced the existing orders, including those regarding non-essential retail, gathering sizes, recreation and restrictions on travel, will stay in effect until at least Jan. 22.

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"We know the critical level, these red restrictions, have been challenging. We've been asking Manitobans to restrict their lives for eight weeks - that's certainly a long time. While we've seen some difference in our numbers, we have been worried about having a spike after the holidays," said Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

Since "red" pandemic response conditions went into effect, Manitoba has seen a reduction in overall cases, going from a peak of 593 cases in one day in late November to 222 cases announced Jan. 8. 

"This will allow us to continue to protect Manitobans, to continue to reduce case numbers, to continue to ease hardship in the health care system and also for us to continue to follow the expected increased numbers due to family gatherings." 

The only change in the provincial health orders will allow Manitoba's two professional hockey teams - the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose - to play games with no fans in attendance and allow team staff, players and league officials to travel around Canada without having to self-isolate.

"It's important to note that this is able to occur because of the strict protocols put in place by the NHL. These have been reviewed by my counterparts in all affected provinces. Play is only going to be taking place in Canada. We've all reviewed those protocols and the testing strategy and this is a quite low risk to Manitobans," said Roussin.

Possible changes to the order will be discussed in the coming days, with a public consultation process on the way to allow Manitobans to have some input on any health order changes. 

"Beginning next week, we're going to launch consultations with Manitobans for feedback on potential future changes to the orders - that's of course if our case numbers allow," Roussin said.

Five-day test positivity rates are hovering at around 10 per cent and over 25,000 Manitobans have tested positive for COVID-19. However, cases are beginning to climb after the holiday season - the province has reported at least 350 cases and nearly 2,000 contacts from holiday gatherings as of Jan. 8, with more likely to come.

"I want to be clear that we have seen a good response to our numbers throughout the later part of December. We see that translate into some improvements on strains in the health care system. We're not back at normal. Now, in fact, we see we're at risk of accelerating increases in our numbers again," Roussin said.

"We're not ready to make those changes. We're still at risk in our system. We're still strained in the health care system. Our numbers were trending in the right direction, but now we're at risk of reversing that."

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