Northern Manitoba braces for increased COVID-19 restrictions while cases rise

While Manitoba’s north is set to come under increased restrictions meant to combat rising COVID-19 case numbers Monday, the mayor of The Pas says heightened rules are necessary to quell the virus’s spread.

“We need to get a handle on this virus in our community and if the restrictions will allow us to do that, then it needs to be done,” said Herb Jaques, the mayor of the northern town of 12,000.

Read more: Manitoba reports 4 new coronavirus deaths, 147 cases, Winnipeg schools moving to restricted level

Generally, gatherings will be capped at five people under the province’s orange level in its pandemic rating system — gatherings of more than five can take place if the number of people doesn’t exceed 30 per cent of a given location’s capacity, the location is physically divided into separate areas where five people are allowed at a time and people aren’t allowed to come into close contact.

Masks will be mandatory in all public, indoor spaces. Restaurants, retail stores and other businesses will be allowed to open at 50 per cent capacity, while casinos and bingo halls will have to close.

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin made the announcement Thursday.

“We know that the north is already at risk for transmission of this virus, especially in remote, isolated communities (where there is lack of) access to health care,” Roussin said at the time.

Click to play video 'Manitoba tightens restrictions on schools in Winnipeg Metro, northern regions, in response to rising COVID-19 numbers' 1:26 Manitoba tightens restrictions on schools in Winnipeg Metro, northern regions, in response to rising COVID-19 numbers

Manitoba tightens restrictions on schools in Winnipeg Metro, northern regions, in response to rising COVID-19 numbers

Jaques said people in The Pas have already begun to wear masks in the town’s shopping district.

“It’s very common now to see people wearing masks in town; all the local businesses have taken measures to ensure there is social distancing,” Jaques said. “It’s just a regular occurrence now in their businesses.

“Handwashing stations are everywhere; we’re doing whatever we can for the recommendations of (chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin) to be compliant and try to get ahead of this.”

The sprawling Northern Health Region, which encompasses 396,000 square kilometres of the province, avoided significant numbers of COVID-19 cases early in the pandemic. On Saturday, however, the region saw 15 new cases, while 58 cases are active.

“I think a solemnness is setting in in my community,” Jaques said. “As you know, we were almost exempt from participating in (the pandemic), we had no cases and we went with no cases for quite a while. Now it’s here and it appears to be here with a vengeance.”

The neighbouring communities of The Pas, Opaskwayak Cree Nation and the rural municipality of Kelsey currently have 15 active novel coronavirus cases combined.

Jaques said he is concerned about the area health-care system’s capacity — The Pas Health Complex has 48 beds total, according to the health authority.

Four of those are functioning intensive care beds, Jaques said.

“If this starts to get out of hand, we’re going to fill up those spaces fairly quickly and that’s a concern,” he said.

“Now is not the time to point fingers or lay criticism, but when this is over, there really needs to be some serious discussions about health care in the north and in Manitoba.”

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