Social gatherings banned, non-critical businesses closed as all of Manitoba moves to code red

Widespread shutdowns are coming as Manitoba’s premier and top doctor order the entire province into the red, or critical, level of the provincial pandemic response plan.

Among the “short, sharp set of restrictions” is a ban on social gatherings of any kind starting Thursday that could last into December. Social contact must be reduced to members of your household only.

Premier Brian Pallister made the announcement Tuesday morning alongside Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin. 

Non-essential retail stores, gyms, movie theatres, salons and churches will close. All recreational facilities and sports activities will be shut down, said Roussin, but schools and child-care centres will remain open.

Non-essential travel is discouraged.

“We are truly at a crossroads in our fight against this pandemic,” Roussin said.

‘We need to turn these numbers around’

There have been more than 2,000 cases in the past week, and the measures in recent weeks haven’t been enough to stem the spread, he said.

“We need to turn these numbers around and we need to turn them around now.”

The widespread closures may be in effect for up to four weeks, or two incubation periods of the virus, Roussin said.

The shift comes one day after Roussin announced 365 new cases, three deaths, a record provincial test positivity rate, and record numbers of COVID-19 patients in hospital (192) and in intensive care (28).

Retail stores considered critical may remain open at 25 per cent capacity, while non-essential stores will only be able to function on a pick-up or delivery basis.

Regulated health professions such as massage therapy will be allowed to continue, Roussin said. 

Despite hundreds of cases, Roussin said schools have not been the centre of big transmission events and he praised their efforts.

Small business boost

Pallister said Manitoba is going to have to hit “the circuit breaker.” He acknowledged the coming weeks will be hard on many and announced supports for businesses impacted by the closures.

The Manitoba bridge grant will provide $5,000 before Christmas to businesses that apply, with the possibility of another $5,000 in the New Year if necessary, Pallister said.

He said the grant is an extension of the gap funding program, which 10,000 small businesses that didn’t qualify for the federal wage support previously received. That program is changing from a conditional loan to a grant that employers will not have to pay back, Pallister said.

Care home crisis

Tighter restrictions came into effect in the Southern Health region Monday as it entered the red zone. Winnipeg and the surrounding area went into the red zone just over a week earlier.

Cases continue to surge in several parts of the province, and people in the education and health-care systems have asked for more support in the form of resources and tighter restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Roussin said the rationale for moving the entire province into code red is related to soaring test positivity rates and high numbers of close contacts in positive cases. Manitoba’s test positivity rate Monday was a record high 9.5 per cent; it was 9.3 per cent in Winnipeg; and it was over four per cent in the Prairie Mountain Health region in western Manitoba, Roussin said.

Disease experts say anything higher than a three per cent test positivity rate warrants widespread closures.

Manitoba announced several more care home outbreaks in Winnipeg facilities on Monday after a weekend when there were several deaths and numerous 911 calls at Maples Long Term Care Home.

The latest information from Revera, the for-profit company that runs the Maples Long Term Care Home, said 22 residents at that facility have died of COVID-19, with dozens more staff and residents testing positive.

Maples’ death toll is the second highest in Manitoba, with Parkview Place, which is also owned by Revera, having lost 23 residents to COVID-19.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said it will send the chief executive nurse of Deer Lodge Centre, Kathleen Klaasen, to the Maples care home starting Tuesday. She will be on site daily, said the president of the regional health authority.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Opposition Leader Wab Kinew have both urged the province to consider calling in the military to help the people in those two care homes, following reports of staffing shortages and other concerns. The Canadian Red Cross is sending staff to the care homes on Friday.