Seventy new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus have been announced in Manitoba.

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Seventy new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus have been announced in Manitoba.

On Wednesday, the provincewide test positivity rate was 6.2 per cent, 5.6 per cent in Winnipeg.

Of the new cases: 29 were in the Winnipeg health region, 20 in Northern Health, 12 in Southern Health, seven in Interlake-Eastern, and two in Prairie Mountain.

There were 164 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Manitoba — 55 of them in intensive care units. An additional nine Manitobans are being treated for COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals.

The provincial government announced the deaths of a man in his 30s from Interlake-Eastern (unspecified variant of concern), and a woman in her 60s from Winnipeg (B.1.1.7 Alpha variant).

Thus far in the pandemic, 1,141 Manitobans have died of COVID-19.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, public health officials emphasized the safety and effectiveness of receiving different brands of COVID-19 vaccine for the first and second dose.

They are encouraging Manitobans to consider the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as interchangeable, and say recent study results show a second dose of an mRNA vaccine can be very effective in building an immune response in people who received AstraZeneca as a first dose.

A new University of Oxford (England) study, using a randomized trial, shows the immune response was the same or stronger when individuals received a shot of AstraZeneca followed by an mRNA vaccine.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba's vaccine task force, spoke about concerns she's heard about vaccine safety for women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or planning to have children in the future.

Reimer emphasized the vaccines are safe and don't cause infertility.

The risk of being infected with COVID-19 after being vaccinated is small, she emphasized. Breakthrough infections (when someone contracts COVID-19 after being vaccinated) have occurred in about 1.2 per cent of hospitalized patients in Manitoba between Jan. 1 and June 27, Reimer said.

"I don't want anyone to be concerned about these breakthrough cases. They are very rare, and I don't want them to prevent anyone from being vaccinated."

The province touted Monday as its best day yet in the vaccine rollout, with nearly 35,000 doses administered.