Shutdown urged to halt variant

‘It would be much more effective if we lock down even for a week’

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Manitoba’s Tory government is facing calls to impose a “circuit breaker” lockdown to drastically reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/12/2021 (226 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba’s Tory government is facing calls to impose a “circuit breaker” lockdown to drastically reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Dr. Aleeza Gerstein, assistant professor of microbiology and statistics at the University of Manitoba, suggested a shutdown where everyone who can work from home is required to do so.

She accused the province of being slow to act after Manitoba reported a record number of cases last week, just days after placing capacity limits on private and public indoor gatherings.

People brave the chilly weather Sunday. Last year, many stores were closed Boxing Day and those that were open were limited to curbside pickup due to restriction at the time. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

The province could announce further measures this week.

“It would be much more effective if we lock down even for a week,” said Dr. Gerstein. “Everyone who does not have to leave their house should be required to minimize their contacts to the bare minimum.

“The best time would have been a week ago and the next best time would be (Sunday). It’s never too late. I wish I knew what was preventing our government from acting faster. I’m guessing it’s politically-driven policy.”

A newly-purchased electronic device is loaded up in Winnipeg Sunday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Earlier this month, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer said Manitoba could possibly record 1,000 cases per day in early 2022 as the Omicron variant replaces Delta as the dominant strain.

Manitoba reported 742 new cases of coronavirus last Friday, the largest single-day increase during the pandemic, though the true figure was higher given there was a backlog of 10,000 tests.

As those figures were revealed, Dr. Roussin hinted further restrictions could be announced this week.

Paulo Ercia, co-owner of WOW! Mabuhay said he will permanently close his store at The Forks in the new year because he cannot afford to sign another lease after sales dipped during the pandemic, but he will keep his branches in Wasagaming and Dauphin open. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

For Gerstein, the next big moment on the calendar is the return to school for thousands of children currently at home on an extended winter break.

Most children across Manitoba were due to go back to class Jan. 6, but the province pushed it back to Jan. 10 to give public health officials more time to assess the threat of Omicron.

Given the rapidly-changing situation, it is difficult to predict whether the return will be delayed again, said Gerstein.

Gerstein called on the government to provide equal access to testing kits and face masks, and make policies with the “least fortunate” people in mind.

She said the province must be more transparent with its data to give a clearer picture of the COVID-19 situation in Manitoba.

Any new measures would come after Manitoba families gathered on Christmas Day and shoppers braved the cold to take advantage of Boxing Day deals.

About 50 people were lined up outside the Best Buy on St. James Street at noon Sunday as shoppers walked out with big screen televisions and other purchases.

“It’s been a lot busier than I expected,” said Shawn Inglis, 18, who wasn’t looking for anything in particular.

“People are still gathered. I feel like people are trying to get out before (any new restrictions). People are starting to feel it coming.”

Yolanda Daniels, 39, was looking for a birthday present for her daughter and a karaoke machine.

She said she would be “fine” with more restrictions being brought in to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m glad we’ll have restrictions in place for people’s safety,” she said.

Brielle Magarrell, 22, and her husband, Connor, 21, spent part of their Sunday browsing stores at St. Vital Centre and The Forks.

Both locations weren’t as busy as they expected.

“It’s been slow, that’s the main thing we have noticed,” said Brielle Magarrell.

She said two Christmas gatherings they were due to attend were cancelled after other guests tested positive for COVID-19.

Connor Magarrell said he didn’t think tougher restrictions would be necessary.

Paulo Ercia, co-owner of WOW! Mabuhay, a home goods and gift store in the Johnston Terminal at The Forks, said his business has taken a hit during the pandemic, but he would welcome more restrictions if cases soar even higher.

“I believe we have to protect the community, to be safe rather than sorry,” he said. “Pain is not forever. It will pass.”

Ercia said he will permanently close his store at The Forks in the new year because he cannot afford to sign another lease after sales dipped during the pandemic, but he will keep his branches in Wasagaming and Dauphin open.

“There were four months of dead sales from January to April,” he said. “Almost 50 per cent of my sales dropped.”

His only full-time employee will work at a new clothing store he plans to open in Wasagaming, he said, while his only part-time staff member will have to find another job.

Kathleen Cook, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’ senior policy analyst for Manitoba, said a full “circuit breaker” lockdown would be “devastating” for many small companies.

“Another round of restrictions will be the final nail in the coffin for some businesses,” she said.

Cook said many small businesses have taken on debt during the pandemic and they are now dealing with inflation and supply chain issues.

She said the province must provide adequate financial support if it were to impose a “circuit breaker” lockdown or extend restrictions into other sectors.

Last year, many stores were closed on Boxing Day and those that were open were limited to curbside pickup due to restrictions at the time.

“People are tired of being stuck in the house,” said Ercia. “This year, people are excited to (go to) stores.”

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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