By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Limits on public gatherings have not stopped Manitoba’s COVID-19 numbers from rising, so tighter rules may come soon, says the province’s top doctor.
With a near-record 170 new cases and three new deaths Wednesday, along with ongoing outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals, Dr. Brent Roussin urged people to stop social outings and hinted that enforcement could be coming if they don’t.
“We see widespread community-based transmission. We see now that transmission occurring through all age cohorts,” Roussin said.
“And so if this trend continues … we will need to act to get stronger measures in place to stop this rate of transmission.”
The greater Winnipeg region has been hit hardest by the novel coronavirus and is already under tighter restrictions than most other areas. Public gatherings are limited to five people, some licensed establishments have had to close and the rest are under capacity limits.
Still, Roussin said, people are getting together and continuing to spread the virus. One recent Thanksgiving gathering led to seven cases, he said.
The province released data Wednesday that shows the spike in recent weeks is starting to take a toll on health care.
The occupancy rate of intensive care beds has risen to 92 per cent. A few dozen surgeries have had to be cancelled because staff have had to isolate while waiting for test results.
Roussin said people need to stop gathering with people they don’t live with, but so far he is not prepared to make that mandatory by issuing a public health order.
“We need to stop socializing with people outside of our household for now,” Roussin said.
“The public health orders, as we write them, will certainly provide some leeway to that because we need them to be able to be enforceable, but the messaging is right now you should really be strongly considering whether you should be socializing outside of your household.”
Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said the no-socializing advice should be mandatory to flatten the COVID-19 curve and clear up any confusion in people’s minds about what is acceptable.
“I don’t think there should be any daylight in (between) the order and the advice,” the NDP leader said.
“Let’s just have Roussin be able to provide his advice to Manitobans and let’s have it be crystal clear.”
The government could move Winnipeg to “red” under its colour-coded response strategy, which would probably force restaurants and other businesses to close.
Roussin said a change would have to be considered carefully, due to the impact of shutting down entire business sectors. But some sort of tightening is being eyed to stem the rising tide of case numbers and hospitalizations, he said.
“We do need to consider what further public health measures are required to try to reverse that.”