Manitoba's strict code-red restrictions have been extended for another two weeks, provincial public-health officials announced Friday.

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Manitoba's strict code-red restrictions have been extended for another two weeks, provincial public-health officials announced Friday.

But hockey fans can take heart; a new exception means the Winnipeg Jets and all professional hockey teams can play in Manitoba, and professional athletes and affiliated officials don't have to self-isolate.

The announcement came just prior to the expiration of the current health order at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, and as case counts creep up after the holidays. They're now in effect until Jan. 22.

Manitobans will be consulted before restrictions are lifted, officials said Friday.

Code-red measures have been in place across Manitoba since Nov. 12. The tightened rules meant all but essential businesses are closed, buying non-essential goods in person is banned and most Manitobans aren't allowed to have visitors over to their homes or gather indoors. Outdoor groups up to a maximum five people are permitted.

Health officials are still worried about a surge in cases because of illicit gatherings during the holiday season.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said 355 cases of the virus spread during gatherings on Christmas Day and afterward, some of them in parties attended by more than two dozen people. Another 1,900 close contacts are linked to those cases.

"We're still at risk in our system, we still have strain on our health-care system. Our numbers were going in the right direction, but now we're at risk of reversing that," Roussin told a media briefing Friday.

Public-health nurses have been hearing from many people who unknowingly spread the virus while they were out and about with only mild symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever and diarrhea lasting more than 24 hours.

"Any symptoms at all, go for testing and self-isolate," Roussin said. "Be on the lookout for even mild symptoms."

As of Friday morning, 222 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed and nine more Manitobans died of the virus. Test positivity rates are still too high at 10.1 per cent provincewide and 10.3 per cent in Winnipeg.

"Now is certainly not the time for us to relax and let our guard down," Roussin said. "We'll keep working at this, engage Manitobans starting next week on our future plans, but it's all going to depend on what these numbers do."

There were 315 COVID-19 patients in hospital in Manitoba as of Friday morning, including 227 with active infections. There are 101 patients in intensive care in the province, 35 of them with the virus. Most hospital patients are between 60 and 79 years old, Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said.

Of the new cases announced Friday, 97 are in the Winnipeg health region, 69 in the Northern region, 27 in Prairie Mountain, 13 in the Southern health region and six in Interlake-Eastern.

The death toll reached 726 Friday. Four of the deaths reported Friday were linked to personal-care home or hospital outbreaks. They include: a man in his 70s in the Northern health region; a woman in her 70s and a woman in her 90s, both linked to the outbreak at Brandon's Fairview Personal Care Home; a woman in her 90s from Prairie Mountain Health; a man in his 50s from the Winnipeg health region; a man in his 50s from the Winnipeg health region; a woman in her 50s from the Winnipeg health region, linked to the outbreak at Health Sciences Centre GH4; a woman in her 60s from the Winnipeg health region linked to the outbreak at the Southeast Personal Care Home; and a woman in her 80s from the Winnipeg health region.

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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