New COVID-19 cases in Manitoba are cluster linked to temporary foreign workers

WINNIPEG — A small COVID-19 cluster involving temporary foreign workers has been detected in southern Manitoba, provincial health officials said Wednesday.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer, said one new case reported Wednesday, along with three others revealed in recent days, stems from a workplace he would not name in the southern health authority region. The region covers a broad rural area in south-central and southeastern Manitoba.

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"It's this cluster of temporary foreign workers and there's no exposure to the public," Roussin said.

"We want to ensure we're advising Manitobans that these are imported cases — that we're not seeing, say, community-based transmission with this — but then again, we also want to respect the privacy of individuals."

The workers self-isolated after arriving in the province, Roussin said, and other temporary foreign workers at the site, along with their close contacts and six local workers, have been tested. The results so far have been negative. Three were yet to be completed.

The new cases bring Manitoba's total to date to 298. Seven people have died, 282 have recovered and nine cases remain active. No one was in hospital Wednesday.

The low numbers have prompted the provincial government to gradually ease restrictions on public and business activities.

Bars, gyms, bowling alleys and other recreation facilities were allowed to reopen at reduced capacity on Monday. Starting Friday, hospital patients will be allowed visits subject to certain rules — one adult visitor at a time in most cases. Physical distancing will have to be maintained at all times.

On the economic front, Premier Brian Pallister indicated his government might make some COVID-19 aid programs available to more people.

About $29 million has been paid out so far from a planned $120-million forgivable loan program for businesses hurt by the pandemic. The money is available to small- and medium-sized businesses and only if they do not qualify for federal aid. Pallister said he will consider expanding the program if uptake remains low.

The premier also left the door open to expanding a one-time payment announced this week for low-income, front-line workers who have stayed on the job during the pandemic. The aid currently is only available to certain workers, including store clerks, cooks, social workers, child-care workers and nurses, and only if they have earned less than $2,500 a month since March.

Pallister said the program might be opened to higher-income earners.

"Only if there's insufficient takeup by the middle- and low-income earners would that be done."

Pallister also announced extra money for infrastructure work, including improvements to a highway that serves as an alternative route to the main road between Winnipeg and the United States border during flood season.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2020

© Melita New Era