Manitoba extends public health orders for 3 more weeks –

Manitoba’s public health orders are being extended three more weeks, Health Minister Audrey Gordon says.

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Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon announced the extension of the province’s public health orders in a news release on Friday afternoon. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Manitoba’s public health orders are being extended three more weeks, Health Minister Audrey Gordon says.

The rules, which were first announced last month and were set to expire on Tuesday, will now last until at least Feb.1, Gordon said in a news release on Friday.

The province’s current rules limit gatherings, with higher caps for groups where everyone is vaccinated. They also cut capacity limits in half in most other places, from restaurants and casinos to gyms and theatres.

The extension will give the province time to gather data and monitor the impacts of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the release said.

The highly contagious strain has helped drive skyrocketing cases in the province, which continues to report record-breaking daily case counts that are likely only a fraction of the true number of infections.

That undercount is happening because the spike in cases has overwhelmed Manitoba’s testing capacity.

As of Friday, the province was still working through a backlog of about 6,000 samples. Earlier this week, it also announced PCR tests will only be offered to certain groups in an effort to preserve its ability to run tests.

“Ongoing restrictions are a challenge for many Manitobans, but remain necessary to help slow the spread of the virus and protect our health-care system,” Gordon said in the release. 

“While these orders remain in place, we continue to take steps to improve supply and access to testing and other important initiatives that support our pandemic response and protect our health system.

“Nothing is off the table and we will act swiftly in the weeks ahead if further action is required to protect Manitobans.”

Hospitalizations among COVID-19 patients have jumped recently, from 192 to 297 in the past week alone. But the number of those patients landing in intensive care units has remained relatively stable, the release said. The number of COVID-19 patients in ICU has gone from 30 to 34 in the past week.

The province said it will continue to monitor Omicron cases, their impact on the health-care system, and outcomes both in Manitoba and in other jurisdictions.

Manitoba remains at the restricted or orange level of its pandemic response system, the release said.

A full list of what rules are staying in place until February is available on the province’s website.

Business supports

Shaun Jeffrey, the CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said he hopes the extended rules will also mean the extension of a provincial support program for businesses affected by the restrictions.

“We’re now locked down for an additional three weeks and and we’re looking to them to help us support our industry while we continue to try to curb this wave of Omicron [cases],” Jeffrey said.

“We’re going to need the support now more than ever.”

Last month, Manitoba announced $22 million in grants for businesses required to reduce their capacity limits under the province’s latest pandemic rules, including restaurants, gyms and theatres.

At the time, Minister of Economic Development and Jobs Jon Reyes said applications would be accepted until the end of January, but that deadline could be pushed if public health orders were extended.

The province did not announce any extension of the program when asked on Friday, but said it “remains committed to working with businesses across the province … as they face challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Jeffrey said the challenges restaurants face have been intensified by pandemic rules forcing them to cut capacity in half and end liquor sales at 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, Manitoba’s soaring case counts and strained testing capacity have exacerbated staffing issues.

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Shaun Jeffrey is the CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“All of these things play into how businesses survive. Because they can’t survive if they don’t have people that go to them, and they don’t survive if they don’t have people to work in them,” he said, adding that smaller businesses have been hit especially hard lately.

“Those restaurants are having to make real tough decisions … [about whether] it’s even feasible to operate or not.”

Some have chosen to close for the month, he said, “just until we get back to a point where we can operate in a manner that’s going to be somewhat beneficial to the industry.”