March 28, 2020

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Manitoba to close schools, limit big events due to COVID-19 pandemic

Manitoba opposition leader Wab Kinew speaks after the reading of the Speech from the Throne at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Monday, September 30, 2019. Manitoba New Democrats are postponing their annual convention because of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba opposition leader Wab Kinew speaks after the reading of the Speech from the Throne at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Monday, September 30, 2019. Manitoba New Democrats are postponing their annual convention because of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG - A fourth person has tested positive for COVID-19 in Manitoba as the government prepares to close schools for three weeks and is recommending big events are postponed.

"All of us know there's a COVID-19 virus coming our way," said Premier Brian Pallister on Friday.

"The question isn't whether it's coming or not, the question is does it all come at the same time or not. What we are trying to do here is lessen the impact by proactive measures."

The Winnipeg man, who is in his 40s, is believed to have been exposed to the virus through recent travels to South Korea, the Philippines and Japan, the province said in a news release.

Three other positive cases of the virus announced earlier this week also appear to be travel-related. One has been confirmed through the national laboratory and officials said confirmation is expected for the others.

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said school closures will start on March 23.

He said he decided to wait a week to give families and schools time to prepare, adding the week of March 30 is also spring break.

"We believe that our schools are safe," Goertzen said.

"However, the experience in other provinces and other parts of the world tells us that proactive measures lessen the impact of the spread of COVID-19."

Pallister said staff will continue to monitor the risk at child-care facilities, but currently there is no directive to close them.

Some post-secondary institutions are also keeping students at home. The University of Winnipeg has suspended all in-person classes and labs for the rest of the winter term and Red River College has implemented a study week for students starting Monday.

Manitoba's chief public health officer recommended all events with more than 250 people be postponed.

"We know this is a significant change, but we all have a role to limit the impact of this virus on ourselves and communities," Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday.

The Manitoba New Democrats also announced Friday that the party is postponing its annual convention. It was to be held the weekend of April 18 and was to include a leadership review for Wab Kinew.

No new date has been set and NDP provincial secretary Tim Johnson said the party will follow the advice of public health professionals.

The Manitoba Liberals have their annual meeting and a leadership review set for early May. So far, it is still on.

A slew of other events, such as the 2020 Royal Manitoba Winter Fair in Brandon, local sporting leagues and competitions have also been cancelled or postponed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2020.

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