Manitoba looking at new restrictions with jump in number of COVID-19 cases

WINNIPEG — Manitoba health officials on Wednesday reported a spike in COVID-19 cases that could prompt new limits on public gatherings.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, said there were 14 new cases, bringing the total to 35. One Winnipeg woman in her 60s was in critical condition in hospital, he added.

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Initial indications are that most of the new cases are connected to travel or contact with previously known cases. Manitoba has not yet seen community transmission, unlike some other provinces, but Roussin said he expects that to happen.

He urged people to stay home if possible and avoid spending time in close proximity to others.

"We are not helpless against this virus. Many of our social-distancing strategies that we've put in place ... can interrupt the transmission of this virus going forward."

The Manitoba government declared a state of emergency last week that limits gatherings to 50 people and allows most retail stores to remain open. Schools are in the middle of a three-week shutdown. Non-essential, routine diagnostic testing has been suspended to protect health-care workers and patients.

Roussin said that given the new numbers, additional restrictions, including a lowering of the 50-person limit for public gatherings, may be on their way.

"I would say that these are things that are evolving very quickly, and so I would expect news on that in the very near future."

He said there was no easy explanation for the spike in cases.

"We've been doing a lot of testing. We're going to try to increase that testing."

More than 4,800 COVID-19 tests have been done across Manitoba, including 352 on Tuesday. Roussin said there was a backlog at the provincial lab, but he could not say exactly how many tests were waiting to be completed.

"What I've been told is that by this week, the entire backlog will be reached pending any complications."

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said he aims to have 500 tests being done daily very soon.

Friesen also said the government is reaching out to the private sector, via an online portal, to ask companies to sign up to provide supplies of gloves, masks and other goods. There is no current shortage, he said, but the demand is bound to go up.

"We recognize that our supply chain could get affected, going forward, in this challenging time."

Friesen also said a new medicare tariff is being set up so that doctors are paid the same fee for virtual patient meetings — via phone or Internet — as in-person appointments. The move will reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2020

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