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Manitobans Urged to Avoid Large Holiday Gatherings in Face of Omicron Variant

December 15, 2021 5:09 PM | The Canadian Press


By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Dr. Brent Roussin

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, speaks at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg Wednesday, December 16, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is urging people to keep their holiday gatherings small as it predicts a spike in COVID-19 cases.

But the province is not planning any new public health restrictions and made no changes to a planned mass football celebration on Wednesday.

The province released preliminary modelling that shows the number of new daily infections could more than quadruple as the Omicron variant spreads in the coming weeks — from the current level of about 200 to as much as 1,000 by early January.

“We need to decrease our personal contacts,” said chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

“We need to rethink our plans over the holidays of large gatherings.”

Get-togethers should be small and involve mainly vaccinated people, the province said, especially for higher-risk groups such as older people. Roussin stopped short of making the recommendation a rule.

There are few cases of the Omicron variant in Manitoba right now, but it has proven very transmissible in other jurisdictions, including Ontario and the United Kingdom, he said.

Manitoba is already struggling to keep up with the demand for intensive care beds. Provincial data indicates only a few are unoccupied, and the province is not ruling out sending patients to other provinces for treatment, as it did during the peak of the pandemic’s third wave last spring.

The Progressive Conservative government has also asked the federal government for up to 30 intensive care nurses to help with the current surge. It was still waiting for an answer Wednesday.

While the government urged people to limit their contacts, it showed no sign of putting a halt to mass gatherings that only fully vaccinated people can attend.

NHL games are continuing with fans in arenas and, on Twitter, Premier Heather Stefanson touted a celebration of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup win, planned for Wednesday night at the team’s outdoor stadium.

“See you there Bombers fans,” read a post on Stefanson’s account.

When asked about the tweet, Stefanson said the event was following provincial health rules.

“(Roussin) has not stated that there’s an issue as it stands right now. I believe everyone who has to go into the stadium has to be fully vaccinated,” she said.

The government is not considering any immediate tightening of health orders, which focus mainly on people who are not fully immunized.

Proof of vaccination is needed to eat in restaurants, go to movies or attend a professional sporting event. Fully immunized people can gather in homes without restrictions, but any gatherings involving one or more unvaccinated people are limited to members of two households.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon left the door open to changes in the future.

“We are going to continue to seek the advice of public health experts and public health officials in terms of what might be needed in the days and weeks ahead,” she said.

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