As Manitobans prepare to get haircuts and host their favourite couple, starting Saturday, public health officials will be keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 numbers to see if pandemic restrictions can be further loosened.
"At this point, it really depends on what happens over the next few weeks," said acting deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal.
On Friday, the province announced 173 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths. The test positivity rate was 9.3 per cent for the province and 6.2 per cent in Winnipeg.
If Manitobans don't follow the fundamentals — wearing a mask, limiting close personal contacts, and self-isolating if they have symptoms — the novel coronavirus will spread and put the health-care system at risk of being overwhelmed, Atwal said.
If that happens, the province cannot further relax its restrictions, he said. "It is is going to be a gradual and cautious process."
The new measures will go into effect 12:01 a.m. Saturday for three weeks, expiring Feb. 12.
Manitoba remains at critical, code-red level on its pandemic response system.
The new rules do not apply to the Northern Health region or the town of Churchill, due to surging COVID-19 cases.
Of the 173 new cases reported Friday, 64 were in the North, 56 in Winnipeg, 33 in Interlake-Eastern, 11 in Prairie Mountain, and nine in Southern Health.
In addition to two designated indoor visitors, households will be allowed to have up to five people over to visit outdoors on private property. Ten people, plus an officiant, will be allowed at funerals, and strict social distancing must be followed.
The new rules eliminate the essential-items list, allowing all retail stores to open — as long as they maintain physical distancing and occupancy limits of 25 per cent, or a maximum of 250 people, whichever is less.
Unregulated health services, such as pedorthists (footwear specialists) and reflexologists, can reopen, as long as they collect information for contact-tracing purposes and obey physical-distancing requirements.
Barbershops and hair salons can reopen at 25 per cent capacity, but only to offer those services — no body sugaring or manicures, for example — and they must collect contact-tracing information and follow physical-distancing rules.
The province also announced Friday, for now, it's not making any new appointments for COVID-19 vaccination "super sites" in Winnipeg and Brandon because of disrupted shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
"The province is currently reviewing its supply of vaccine to determine if any booked appointments will have to be cancelled as a result, and will update Manitobans as soon as possible," it said in a statement Friday.
Starting Saturday, all Manitoba teachers, educational support staff and other staff working in schools and directly with students will be able to make an appointment for COVID-19 testing at the Fast Pass site at 1066 Nairn Ave. in Winnipeg.
Eligible clients must be symptomatic, identified as a close contact because of an exposure at school, or have a symptomatic household member. Clients will be required to show identification and proof of employer at time of appointment.
Manitoba has 133 people in hospital with active COVID-19, as well as 141 in hospital who are no longer infectious but require care. That includes 24 in intensive care units with active COVID-19, and 15 no longer infectious who continue to require critical care.
The total number of deaths in Manitoba due to COVID-19 climbed to 795.
Laboratory testing numbers show 2,070 tests were completed Thursday.
An outbreak has been declared at Pembina Manitou Health Centre—Personal Care Home (Manitou). The site has been moved to critical (red) level.
Outbreaks have been declared over at Tabor Home (Morden), Tudor House (Selkirk), and Deer Lodge Centre (Lodge 4 East), West Park Manor, St. Amant Health and Transition, and Carpathia Children’s Centre Inc. in Winnipeg.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.