Manitoba is opening two more COVID-19 screening centres — in Flin Flon and The Pas — while health officials continue to ask residents to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that has been confirmed in seven people in the province.
In his daily briefing on Monday morning, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced no new cases of COVID-19 beyond the seven announced by Sunday.
All seven patients contracted the disease while travelling abroad to destinations that included the Philippines, South Korea, Egypt and unspecified countries in Europe.
There is no evidence the virus is spreading from person to person in Manitoba, Roussin said. The province has tested people in personal care homes who have not travelled but have presented serious respiratory symptoms, he said.
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“We have no seen community-based transmission,” he said.
As of Sunday, Winnipeg’s four dedicated testing sites had seen 900 patients in the previous three days, including 268 on Saturday.
Winnipeg opened four COVID-19 screening centres by Friday and one opened in Thompson’s Plaza Mall on Monday. The two new centres in the north could open as soon as Tuesday, chief provincial nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said.
She also said the province is working on a way to contact people with negative test results. People with positive tests are contacted within 48 hours.
Roussin repeated that only patients with symptoms and who have returned from abroad — or have been in contact with COVID-19-positive patients — should be tested.
Roussin continued to urge Manitobans to avoid large gatherings, including on St. Patrick’s Day, which is traditionally one of the busiest nights of the year for establishments that serve alcohol.
Gatherings in crowded pubs make it impossible to practice social distancing and involve prolonged, close contact, he said.
“There will be a time where we get back to those activities. Now is not that time,” Roussin said.
He also repeated his pleas that anyone returning home from international travel — including the U.S. — stay home for 14 days.
“Please, please follow our advice. Self-isolate for 14 days,” he said.
The only exception applies to health-care workers, who will undergo special screenings to see whether they can return earlier to assist the health-care system.
Siragusa said plans are in place to increase staff levels in the health-care system in the event cases spike upward in Manitoba. That includes enlisting retired nurses and doctors, she said.
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The province is still trying to speed up response times at Health Links, which received more than 1,000 calls on Saturday, she said.
The average wait time is one hour and 43 minutes, she said. More staff are still being added to help deal with the spike in calls, and an online self-assessment tool for COVID-19 that people can use instead of calling Health Links should be ready soon.
Hospital patients can only have one visitor a day and no one with symptoms should visit hospitals or personal care homes, Siragusa said.
The province, which already has ordered schools to close on March 23, is not closing daycares yet. The province is reviewing that decision, Roussin said.
Casinos also remain open but that decision is under review as well.
Roussin also reminded Manitobans not to engage in panic buying or stockpiling goods, and to be wary of scams where people claiming to be health officials ask for personal or financial information.
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