Winnipeg area moves to code red pandemic response as rest of Manitoba goes to orange starting Monday

Broad shutdowns will start in Winnipeg and surrounding areas on Monday as the province moves its capital area to the red, or critical, level on its pandemic response scale in the face of a rising tide of COVID-19 cases.

Elective and non-urgent surgeries and diagnostic surgeries will be suspended starting Monday, Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday.

Movie theatres, concert halls, sports facilities, and restaurant and bar dining rooms will be ordered to close. Restaurants may still offer takeout and delivery.

“We are at a turning point right now,” Roussin said Friday. “If we don’t make a dramatic change, we’re going to see our health-care system significantly strained.”

The rest of Manitoba will move to the orange, or restricted, level starting Monday, Roussin said. The order will limit gathering sizes to five and reduce capacity in public-facing businesses.

The move comes as Manitoba announced a record-shattering 480 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, although that number includes cases identified over the past several days due to a backlog in reporting, Roussin said.

The province is also facing concerns about strain on its health-care system. A total of 104 people are in hospital due to COVID-19, including 79 in Winnipeg, as of Friday. Nineteen patients are in intensive care, and Manitoba’s ICU capacity is at 96 per cent, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health.

“The numbers today will strike fear in many Manitobans,” Siragusa said. “These numbers will have the most resonance with our healthcare workers who have stepped forward at the same time that we’ve asked Manitobans to take a step back.”

The new measures will be in place for at least two weeks, Roussin said Friday.

In Winnipeg, visitation at hospitals will be suspended, with case-by-case exceptions for patients receiving end-of-life care, in labour and pediatric patients.

No changes will be made to schools in the Winnipeg area, which are already at the restricted orange level, the province said. Retail stores in the region must limit capacity to 25 per cent or five people, whichever is higher.

“We’ve been messaging the need for action, the need for practising the fundamentals, and we realize it’s very challenging times,” said Roussin. “But now, we see these significant increases in numbers, a strain now on the health-care system, so now is that time to definitely act. It’s not the time to panic.”

‘Today is a hard day’

Across Manitoba, outside of Winnipeg, the orange-level restrictions will reduce capacity at restaurants, bars, retail stores, museums, galleries and libraries to 50 per cent.

The province is encouraging Manitobans to limit the number of people from each household who go shopping.

A variety of establishments outside the city area — including movie theatres, concert halls, libraries and more — must collect and keep contact information for people who enter. Casinos in those regions must close.

The announcement comes hours after several Manitoba doctors signed and published a letter to the premier and health minister in the Winnipeg Free Press urging government to lock down.

Health officials have plans to expand health-care system capacity, including converting beds and creating new ones outside of hospitals for the least-sick, non-COVID-19 patients, in order to make room for COVID-19 cases, Siragusa said.

“Today is a hard day,” she said. “It’s really difficult to give the messages and I’m sure it’s difficult to hear them.”

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