‘This is our time to act’: A timeline of coronavirus in Manitoba

By | April 2, 2020

From Emerson to Churchill, Falcon Lake to Russell, and everywhere in between, the lives of people in Manitoba have been dramaticallly affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Public health directives, closed schools and daycares and shuttered businesses mean Manitobans are stuck at home. Some are without work or adequate child care.

Here’s a look at what’s happened in Manitoba since the first COVID-19 cases appeared in the province.

1st cases

On March 12, the province announced the first three presumptive cases of coronavirus in Manitoba. All three — a woman in 40s and two men in their 30s — were exposed to the virus during recent travel.

That same day, two screening centres were opened in Winnipeg.

Other parts of the country had already seen numerous cases by this point, including 59 in Ontario, 17 in Quebec, and 53 in B.C. Saskatchewan also reported its first presumptive case on March 12, and a case involving a child was reported in Calgary.

International travel restricted

On March 13, the federal government warned Canadians against all international travel and limited inbound flights to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu called it a “critical time of containment.”

“Given that there is increased travel happening over the next several weeks, and given that we’re at a critical time in keeping our cases down, this is the determination that public health has provided us,” she said.

That same day, the provincial government announced that in-school classes would be cancelled for one week before and after the upcoming spring break.

On March 17, the Canadian and U.S. governments agreed to restrict non-essential travel across the border.

Winnipeg Richardson International Airport was empty on March 20 amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

On March 18, the federal government announced the first details of its massive aid package to help Canadians and businesses deal with the effects of the pandemic, including $27 billion in direct supports and another $55 billion in tax deferrals.

1st Manitoban hospitalized

On March 19, Manitoba public health officials announced a person was hospitalized with COVID-19 — the first person hospitalized for the illness in the province — and was in stable condition.

That same day, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced a 30-bed isolation unit would be created by moving an existing medical unit in the main hospital space at Health Sciences Centre into the former women’s hospital area.

State of emergency declared

March 20 saw some major coronavirus developments in Manitoba. The province declared a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic and banned gatherings of more than 50. It also shuttered wellness centres, including gyms.

As announced earlier in the week, daycares and preschools closed at the end of the day, but the province said it would spend $27.6 million on child care for front-line health-care workers.

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Families Minister Heather Stefanson said licensed child-care centres would continue to get their full operating budgets and the province would establish a grant program to provide money to home-based child-care centres of up to 12 children.

In-school classes end

Although many parents had already pulled children out of school, on March 23, the province’s schools began a three-week closure (which included the spring break) to more effectively promote social distancing.

In a move to help renters, on March 24, the province froze rent hikes and postponed non-urgent eviction hearings in response to economic challenges caused by the pandemic.

Swings were removed from the playground at Gladstone School. The Winnipeg School Division posted signs and removed swings from all 89 of its playgrounds. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The Residential Tenancies Branch and Residential Tenancies Commission will postpone all hearings, except for issues involving tenants’ health and safety, and unlawful activity.

That same day, Winnipeg school divisions shut down playgrounds in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Testing expands

On March 26, the province expanded its COVID-19 testing to include symptomatic nurses, inmates and homeless people.

The federal government also implemented strict mandatory quarantine rules for returning Canadians in an effort to prevent people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 while abroad from passing it on to others.

1st death announced

On March 27, public health officials announced Manitoba’s first COVID-19-related death

The woman in her 60s died after she was admitted to an intensive care unit in critical condition the previous week.

“It’s a tragic loss. It’s a Manitoban that we lost, and our hearts go out to their friends and family,” Roussin said that morning. 

“But this is our time to act now. Stay home if you can.”

That same day, the province announced it would deploy employees to the five busiest provincial border crossings to inform travellers of the risk of COVID-19.

A sign at the U.S.-Canada border crossing at Emerson, Man., on March 24 warns returning travellers to stay home for two weeks after their return. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

In Ottawa, the federal government announced it would boost its wage subsidy to 75 per cent for small and medium-sized businesses to avoid laying off employees.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the wage subsidies would be backdated to March 15, 2020.

He also said the government will also provide bank loans of up to $40,000 for small businesses, which will be interest-free for the first year.

“We’re helping companies keep people on the payroll so that workers are supported and the economy is positioned to recover from this. That is our priority,” Trudeau said.

City shuts down playgrounds

On March 27, the province announced that as of March 30, public gatherings will be limited to 10 people, down from 50.

The City of Winnipeg said that as for March 28, all of its play structures, including picnic structures, would be closed in order to comply with the provincial health order.

Also on March 28, the prime minister announced people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 will no longer be able to travel domestically by plane or train. 

At a press conference on March 29, Trudeau pledged help for children and seniors who are struggling with accessing essential services while they’re stuck at home.

The federal government pledged $7.5 million in funding to Kids Help Phone to provide mental health support to children and youth impacted by school closures and reduced access to social support and community resources.

The federal government said it would also spend $9 million through the United Way Canada to help the country’s older population get groceries, medication and other critical items.

Gathering limit now 10

Effective March 30, gatherings are limited to 10 people in Manitoba.

The province also announced it would restrict the operations of non-essential businesses under a new public health order.

“These measures are yet another step to limit the transmission of this virus and to flatten that curve,” Roussin said.

The Forks Market in Winnipeg was deserted on March 18, shortly before it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

K-12 schools close indefinitely

On March 31, the province announced classes for kindergarten to Grade 12 students are suspended indefinitely for the school year.

Teachers will continue to teach remotely, assign work, conduct assessments and prepare report cards, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.

Health-care workers getting sick

That same day, the Manitoba Nurses Union confirmed a Winnipeg emergency department nurse tested positive for COVID-19. Darlene Jackson, the union’s president, said she believes the nurse contracted the virus while working in the emergency department caring for patients who have it.

On April 1, the province’s two-week restriction on non-essential businesses came into effect.

Roussin also confirmed that day that four health-care workers in total have tested positive for COVID-19, including workers at Grace and St. Boniface hospitals in Winnipeg as well as a workers at the Selkirk Regional Health Centre.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer and Lanette Siragusa, Shared Health’s chief nursing officer address the public daily to give updates on COVID-19. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

He also said the early signs of community transmission were beginning to show in Winnipeg after public health officials weren’t able to determine the source of transmission for four or five cases in the city.

“We knew to expect this. As more and more cases are introduced into a jurisdiction, community transmission is going to be inevitable.”

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