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MANITOBA’S test positivity rate for COVID-19 infections dropped below 10 per cent on Wednesday — a "good direction" as the provincial government considers loosening public health restrictions.

The number has rarely fallen to single digits since the fall, but was announced to be 9.5 per cent provincewide, and 6.7 per cent in Winnipeg, as case counts in the capital dropped dramatically but surged in the north.

On Wednesday, the province also announced six more Manitobans had died of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 154 new cases had been detected (nearly half of them in northern Manitoba).

"Overall, our numbers are headed in a good direction, and we have started to look at the reopening process," said acting deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal.

Of the new cases, 70 were in Northern Health. Test positivity rates for the region haven’t been provided by the province because of the small population size, Atwal said in response to reporters’ questions, but it far exceeds the provincial rate.

There were 48 new cases in Winnipeg, 18 in Interlake-Eastern, 10 in Southern Health, and eight in Prairie Mountain.

The deaths announced Wednesday include: a man in his 50s from the Winnipeg region; a woman and a man in their 60s linked to an outbreak at Southeast Personal Care Home (Winnipeg); a woman in her 60s from the Winnipeg region; a woman in her 90s linked to an outbreak at Holy Family care home (Winnipeg); and a woman in her 90s linked to an outbreak at McCreary/Alonsa Health Centre.

Meanwhile, a final decision will be made later this week on loosening public health restrictions as early as Saturday, Atwal said. On the table: expanded household gatherings, and reopening unregulated health services and businesses such as hair salons — while maintaining social distancing, masking and cleaning protocols.

"Businesses that are not being considered (for reopening) at this time didn’t do anything wrong. They are not being punished; we just can’t open everything all at once," he said. "We will not be successful if we do that.

"Reopening needs to be a cautious process, slow — and I ask for your patience in this. Our current situation is encouraging, but it remains crucial that we continue to follow the orders."

Since Nov. 12, 2020, Manitobans have been under code red restrictions that banned all household gatherings (except for people who live alone) and non-essential shopping, and forced most retail businesses to close.

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May

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

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