Manitoba has extended public health orders shutting down non-essential businesses and limiting public gatherings for an additional two weeks.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, announced the extension of the orders under the province’s Public Health Act on Monday, in an effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The orders, which were introduced on March 30, were previously set to expire on Tuesday. They are now set to expire on April 28.
Under the current rules, bars, hair salons and massage therapy offices are shut down and restaurants are banned from serving eat-in service.
Businesses are allowed to do repairs, provide security services or take items out of a closed establishment if they operate on a remote basis.
The province is likely to enhance the orders later this week, Roussin said. He declined to provide specifics of what that could look like.
Four new cases of COVID-19 were announced Monday, bringing the province’s total to 246.
“We have to keep this up, or we will see those numbers climb again,” Roussin said.
Roussin said Monday physical distancing measures are expected to be in place into the summer. However, he said they’re unlikely to be as restrictive as they are now. When the province does begin rolling back restrictions, it will start with businesses first and keep an eye on the numbers, he said.
But for now, Roussin said the key takeaway for Manitobans must be to stay the course with physical distancing.
“I think we’re at a critical juncture,” Roussin said. “These type of restrictions, we’re looking to roll them back as soon as possible.”
The province’s active caseload is at 143 as of Monday. Nineteen new cases were announced over the long weekend.
“We are still early in this outbreak. But these numbers show that our efforts are having some benefit,” Roussin said.
“These numbers certainly are remaining low, but that could change if we loosen up on our strategies at this point.”
Eight people are in hospital, including four in intensive care units. Four Manitobans with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic began and 99 people have recovered.
Roussin said he’s not aware of any “re-infections,” where a recovered person has tested positive for COVID-19 again after recovery.
Manitoba will begin validating a new, rapid test for COVID-19 on Tuesday, Roussin said. The portable genetic test from Spartan Bioscience was approved by Health Canada earlier Monday morning.
“Even though it’s been approved, we still have to see how it performs based on the PCR [polymerase chain reaction testing] at the lab as well,” Roussin said. “That work will start tomorrow, and once we’re convinced that it’s a valid test, then we’ll start utilizing that.”
Validation work will be done at a Winnipeg acute care facility, Roussin said. How long it takes will depend on how many patients the centre sees per day to test it on.
Once validated, Roussin said health officials are looking at using the test in hospital admissions and remote areas.
“We’re looking at a lot of avenues for that,” he said. “It’ll depend on how many tests are available, how many units are available.”
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The province’s Cadham Provincial Laboratory has completed 17,245 tests since early February. The lab completed 32 tests on Easter Sunday, Roussin said.
“These numbers reflect the decreased demand for testing over the Easter weekend,” he said.
PPE, pandemic projections
So far, the province has not released any projections of how many Manitobans could be sickened or die from COVID-19. Ottawa and several other provinces have already made their numbers public.
Roussin said Monday modelling for Manitoba may be made public in the next weeks.
Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer with Shared Health, said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the province’s stores of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health-care workers. The province has been revising its guidelines and looking for ways to reserve equipment where possible, she said.
Siragusa had said last week the province had received a “fraction” of the supplies it ordered from the federal government, and was within a week or two of using up its supply of N95 masks, gloves and gowns.
The province is also looking at expanding testing in the future, Roussin said. When that happens, high-priority categories may include additional symptomatic critical workers and symptomatic members of the public.
Currently in the province, testing is limited to symptomatic people who fall into certain categories. These include people who have travelled outside Manitoba in the past 14 days, those who have been in close contact with a confirmed case, health-care workers, first responders and lab workers who have worked with COVID-19 tests.
Symptomatic people who live in northern Manitoba, a First Nation, or a remote or isolated community may also be tested, the province says, as can people living in a congregate setting, such as a shelter or a long-term care centre.
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