Manitoba’s premier says the Omicron variant — not her government’s pandemic response — is to blame after the province landed in the top spot for COVID-19 hospitalizations in Canada.
As of Tuesday, Manitoba had the highest per capita hospitalization rate of all the provinces and territories at 44.8 per 100,000, according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada. Quebec was second at 39.7 per 100,000.
Premier Heather Stefanson said her government continues to work with Shared Health to respond to the increasing number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital and defended the current level of restriction in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"We have among the most stringent restrictions in the country," Stefanson said Tuesday, following the swearing in of her new executive council. "Some of the larger gatherings are not happening here and that’s where we know that the spread is, so we have reduced that."
When asked if the rate at which Manitobans are being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 shows the government’s pandemic response has been inadequate, Stefanson said current figures have more to do with the highly infectious Omicron variant of concern and spread in the community.
"This is not unique to Manitoba. It’s happening across the country… and we’re all going through it at various different times," Stefanson said, noting neighbouring Saskatchewan was also hit hard by a Delta wave last fall.
"And our numbers are up as a result of Omicron," she said. "We will get through this. We will work with Shared Health, we will work with public health, we will work with Manitobans to ensure that we do what we need to get to the other side of this."
The premier also stood by her comments last week that "it’s up to Manitobans to look after themselves" and government can’t protect everybody. She said she regrets the way her statements were reported in the media.
"It’s certainly not at all what I meant — and I want Manitobans to know that we are here for them. We will work with them to ensure that we all get through this together," Stefanson said.
"It doesn’t mean that we’re abdicating any responsibility, and we will continue to work with Manitobans to get Manitobans through this."
“It doesn’t mean that we’re abdicating any responsibility, and we will continue to work with Manitobans to get Manitobans through this.” – Premier Heather Stefanson
According to the province’s pandemic dashboard, COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 19 patients since Monday, bringing the total number of people requiring a hospital bed to 620, including 48 in intensive care.
That number has grown by 58 per cent in the past 10 days, or 228 people, as the province’s health system averaged 47 admissions a day.
About six patients have been admitted to intensive care for COVID-19 per day in the same period. As of Tuesday morning, there were 102 patients, including those without COVID-19, in ICUs.
Health officials have said the province can expand capacity to 116 ICU beds and no discussions have occurred with other provinces to provide critical care support, if required.
Critical care physician Dr. Eric Jacobsohn said at this point in the Omicron surge, ICUs are managing the influx of COVID-19 patients while also maintaining cardiac surgical slates at about 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
"We’re coping right now. We’re coping at the expense of everything else being stripped down," Jacobsohn said in an interview Tuesday.
However, it remains unclear if daily COVID-19 admissions to intensive care could climb even higher as Omicron spreads out of control in the community, he noted.
"Many of us are just guessing at this stage. The projections have been dire. There are some suggestions that Omicron really hasn’t ripped through the unvaccinated community as yet… and nobody in the province really has an idea of what numbers of people are being infected," he said. "Only time will tell."
Patients will continue to see significant delays to routine care while COVID-19 patients flood the system and cancer diagnoses are delayed, heart conditions deteriorate and Manitobans die on wait lists, Jacobsohn said.
"COVID triaging — that’s the only thing we’re not doing. We’re triaging every other aspect of health care," the doctor said. "Our health-care system unequivocally is failing many people and, unequivocally, I think is an embarrassment to Manitoba."
On Tuesday, the province reported the deaths of three more Manitobans due to COVID-19, bringing its pandemic death toll to 1,466. Thirty-seven Manitobans have died due to COVID-19 in the past 10 days.
As of Jan. 17, Manitoba had the second-highest COVID-19 death rate in Canada and the second-highest death rate due to the disease in the past 14 days, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.