Pandemic rule-breakers are fuelling a third wave of COVID-19 in Manitoba, the province's deputy chief public health officer said Friday, but no new restrictions have been implemented to curb the virus’s spread.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

Pandemic rule-breakers are fuelling a third wave of COVID-19 in Manitoba, the province's deputy chief public health officer said Friday, but no new restrictions have been implemented to curb the virus’s spread.

Manitobans could prevent a third-wave surge in cases if they stop skirting public-health restrictions and urge their friends and family to do the same, Dr. Jazz Atwal said.

The delayed arrival of highly contagious strains of the virus bought Manitoba some time compared with neighbouring provinces, he said, but the next few weeks will be a crucial time, since vaccines aren't rolling out fast enough to rely on immunity to stop a third-wave spike.

"This is on all Manitobans. We could prevent the surge. We are in a unique situation," Atwal said in an interview with the Free Press Friday.

“We don’t like what we’re starting to see,” Dr. Jazz Atwal said this afternoon. “The third wave is starting… how hard it hits us is going to be up to all of us.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“We don’t like what we’re starting to see,” Dr. Jazz Atwal said this afternoon. “The third wave is starting… how hard it hits us is going to be up to all of us.”

"It is the behaviour of Manitobans, you know, that is what's going to prevent that wave from occurring. So there is that opportunity here. We have a window here," he added.

"If you know someone who isn't stepping up, remind them to step up, then we have a really good chance here of plateauing so that (the third) wave doesn't keep going up."

The province didn't tighten restrictions as expected this week.

Instead, Atwal asked Manitobans to follow "the spirit" of the rules — that means no sleepovers for students who are in the same classroom, no post-church brunches, no backyard gatherings that invite 10 people to mingle over one property line. Public-health officials offered up those examples of rule-skirting that have caused a spike in COVID-19 infections in Manitoba, and in some cases have resulted in hospitalizations.

"We don’t like what we’re starting to see," Atwal said during a news conference Friday afternoon.

"If you know someone who isn't stepping up, remind them to step up, then we have a really good chance here of plateauing so that (the third) wave doesn't keep going up." — Dr. Jazz Atwal

Earlier this week, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin told Manitobans to expect more restrictions, including possible limits to gathering sizes and mandatory masks outdoors.

But on Friday, Atwal said officials are instead "fine-tuning" new restrictions based on ongoing reviews of Manitoba's transmission rates and epidemiological data. The province wants to avoid a total lockdown but is planning for new rules to be announced next week.

Non-essential travel brings home P.1 variant

Manitoba's first case of the P.1 strain of COVID-19 that has wreaked havoc in Brazil was the result of non-essential travel, Dr. Jazz Atwal said Friday.

The single case was announced Thursday, but no details were provided until a news conference Friday afternoon. Atwal said the individual who contracted the highly contagious variant, a resident of the Interlake-Eastern region, experienced symptoms while travelling out of province. The person didn't come into contact with others while experiencing symptoms and had only one household contact, Atwal said.

Manitoba's first case of the P.1 strain of COVID-19 that has wreaked havoc in Brazil was the result of non-essential travel, Dr. Jazz Atwal said Friday.

The single case was announced Thursday, but no details were provided until a news conference Friday afternoon. Atwal said the individual who contracted the highly contagious variant, a resident of the Interlake-Eastern region, experienced symptoms while travelling out of province. The person didn't come into contact with others while experiencing symptoms and had only one household contact, Atwal said.

“So there is no risk to other Manitobans," he said, later clarifying the person didn't return to Manitoba by plane.

“We feel that the individual did exactly what they were supposed to do and the risk to other Manitobans from this case is non-existent. The biggest risk to Manitobans is leaving the province and coming back or having people come in from out of province and not self-isolating properly. That’s the lesson to be learned here. So avoid all non-essential travel, period.”

The B.1.1.7 variant is becoming the dominant strain in Manitoba. During the first week of April, highly contagious variants accounted for 40 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in the Winnipeg health region, Atwal said. He said Manitoba is on track to see cases involving highly infectious variants double within the next 10 days.

There have been a total of 704 cases involving highly contagious variants in Manitoba, the majority linked to B.1.1.7. Two Manitobans have died after contracting more contagious strains of the virus.

"It’s going to be incumbent on all of us... again, to make sure that we don’t lock down. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to have somewhat of a functioning society where people can still partake in some activities; it’s good for your mental health. Again, the option of last resort is really to lock down to that degree. Ontario, you know, when you look at how the case numbers went up, they likely waited much too long, and we’re not going to go down that road, I can assure you that. We want to see what we can maintain with the restrictions that are in place," Atwal said during the news conference.

But public health officials are still seeing the virus spread via indoor household gatherings, non-essential travel, and Manitobans failing to stay home when sick — including sick parents sending their children to school before receiving their positive test results.

Manitoba's daily case counts have been rising for the past several weeks after remaining steady for roughly two months. There were 127 new cases announced Friday, contributing to a provincewide test positivity rate of 5.1 percent.

There are fewer people showing up in hospital with COVID-19, but those who do are much more likely to end up in an intensive care unit, Atwal said, and there is an increase among patients ranging from teenagers to people in their 40s.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

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

   Read full biography