As case counts climb and third-wave ICU admissions rise, Manitoba public health officials haven't recommended imposing additional restrictions.

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As case counts climb and third-wave ICU admissions rise, Manitoba public health officials haven't recommended imposing additional restrictions.

Instead, they're urging the public to be more careful than existing provincial rules dictate it must be.

"Just because you can go do something, maybe you shouldn't," Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, said Friday.

Atwal warned a lockdown could be on the horizion as a last resort — although he repeatedly said officials are trying to impose the fewest restrictions possible as they try to balance economic and mental health concerns with the urgent need to protect the health care system from overload.

"Just because a store is allowed (under current capacity limits to have) 330 people in it, maybe the store manager should say, 'You know what? That's too many people in the store. Let's cut it down to 250.' Maybe those leaders in these sectors need to do some of those things to help prevent some cases from occurring so we don't have to go into a lockdown," Atwal said.

"I think that's the most important message for Manitobans right now."

Public health officials tweaked COVID-19 emergency orders this week to further reduce gathering sizes and retail store capacity, but Atwal said they haven't recommended any other tightened rules to the provincial government, in light of the negative mental health and economic effects lockdown measures would have.

COVID-19 case counts have been increasing by an average of 40 per cent each week for the past three weeks, and intensive care unit hospitalizations are up by about eight per cent.

There were 300 new cases involving highly contagious variants announced Friday.

Atwal said the increases are "worrisome," but said Manitobans can still do their part to "save summer."

He likened the existing orders to roadway speed limits, and said Manitobans can change their behaviour according to current conditions without the government implementing more restrictions.

"We want Manitobans to slow down. Limit those interactions," he said.

On Friday, Manitoba announced 181 new cases of the novel coronavirus, as well as two more pandemic deaths: a man in his 50s and a man in his 70s, both from Winnipeg.

The latter is Manitoba's third death linked to the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant.

B.1.1.7 is becoming dominant in the province, and other faster-spreading variants are circulating.

As of Friday, there were four cases in Manitoba of the P.1 variant, which gained notoriety as it spread through Brazil.

Two new cases of P.1 in Winnipeg were shown in provincial data released Friday afternoon: one person was a close contact of a previous positive case; the other contracted the virus via unknown transmission.

There were 144 Manitobans hospitalized with COVID-19, 35 of them in ICUs. Hospitalization rates are relatively stable, but ICU admissions are going up, Atwal acknowledged Friday.

When asked why Manitoba isn't implementing lockdown measures, Atwal said such moves have negative health impacts, but so do hospitals at overcapacity.

"We have to balance that," he said, adding public health officials are having ongoing discussions about further restrictions and are watching to see how the acute-care system is affected as more Manitobans get vaccinated.

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May

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