Three presumptive cases of COVID-19, all involving people who had recently travelled, were announced Sunday, raising the number of infected people in Manitoba to seven.
Manitoba's chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the additional cases involve a man in his 70s from Winnipeg; a woman in her 70s from the Interlake, and a woman in her 50s from Winnipeg.
The province already had four confirmed cases: a Winnipeg man in his 40s who had travelled to South Korea, the Philippines and Japan, two men in their 30s who were exposed through travel, and a Winnipeg woman in her 40s, who had travelled to the Philippines.
Roussin advised all Manitobans, including health providers, to cancel or postpone non-essential international travel.
"By cancelling or postponing our international travel plans, we're limiting the importation of this virus back into Manitoba," he said.
"People without symptoms: there is no need for you to be tested."
He said travellers who are abroad should strongly consider returning to Manitoba as soon as possible.
"There are growing travel restrictions in many parts of the world. You could become ill when you are away, or be forced to quarantine, so consider all of these when travelling," Roussin said. "Now is not the time to travel outside of Canada."
He also said anyone who had returned to Manitoba after travelling internationally in the last 14 days, should self-isolate.
"We know in Canada, the vast majority of cases are travel-related," Roussin said.
The province said plans are being made to screen health care workers who return to Manitoba from international travel.
"Now is not the time to travel outside of Canada."
Nine-hundred people have been testing for the novel coronavirus at four testing sites in the city in the last three days, said chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa.
Health Links, a telephone line designated for health-related calls, received more than 1,000 on Saturday.
International travellers who have cold or flu symptoms within two weeks of coming back to Canada should contact Health Links at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257, the province advised.
Roussin said there are two groups of people who should be tested: those who have returned from international travel who have symptoms — respiratory problems such as shortness of breath, a fever or cough — and those who are symptomatic and have been in contact with a known case.
He emphasized that people who have no symptoms, should not ask to be tested.
"People without symptoms: there is no need for you to be tested," Roussin said. "There is a growing demand on our lab. We want to make sure we can test as many eligible people as possible."
"I strongly discourage Manitobans from being fearful, and panic–buying and hoarding supplies."
Health Sciences Centre
Health Sciences Centre, the province's largest hospital, began restricting the number of public entrances starting Sunday, so that visitors could be screened for COVID-19.
These restrictions will protect patients who may have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of severe illness due to COVID-19.
Patients will only be allowed one visitor at a time. Exceptions will be made at a manager’s discretion for special circumstances, such as visitors who require an escort or those seeing patients nearing the end of their lives.
At the entrance at 700 William Ave. on Sunday, members of the public were allowed into the building and directed to stand in line so they could be questioned about their health, including whether they had recently returned from travelling internationally. Once cleared, they were asked to use hand sanitizer before visiting a patient.
Scrap sick notes
Roussin stressed that businesses must allow workers to call in sick without having to produce a sick note. Requiring such a note, he said, puts an unnecessary burden on health care professionals.
"Our system needs to focus on this pandemic, not on signing notes for individuals right now," he said.
He said employers need to understand it is necessary to contain the virus, so workers who have symptoms should be allowed to work from home.
"As Manitobans, we need to come together and find a way to reduce the impact of this virus," he said.
Siragusa said Sunday the Access Centre in Thompson would accept patients for testing starting on Monday. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Other centres in rural Manitoba will open next week, she said.
Similar measures are being considered for other health-care facilities throughout the province and at long-term care homes.
Roussin cautioned Manitobans to stay calm and understand there is no evidence of community-wide transition of COVID-19. He said Manitoba is being proactive by taking measures so quickly.
"I strongly discourage Manitobans from being fearful and panic-buying and hoarding supplies," he said.
The latest updates on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
CancerCare Manitoba is asking patients with upcoming appointments or tests to call ahead.
Cancer patients may be more susceptible to COVID-19 due to weakened immune systems, so appointments and tests may be rescheduled if not considered urgent or patients are not actively being treated for the disease.
Similarly, kidney patients are at higher risk of infection. Scheduled dialysis treatments are proceeding as usual for patients who are well.
However, dialysis patients with cold or flu symptoms who have returned from international travel in the past 14 days are asked to call Health Links at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257 for an initial assessment.
They are also asked to call their renal unit before leaving home for a dialysis treatment or clinic visit so staff can prepare to treat them in a way that keeps them and others from possibly being exposed to COVID-19.
Practise social distancing
— cancel or postpone large-scale events (events with more than 250 attendees);
— minimize prolonged (more than 10 minutes), close (less than two metres) contact between individuals in public;
— avoid greetings that involve touching such as handshakes;
— disinfect frequently used surfaces;
— follow public health advice related to self-monitoring and self-isolation if you have travelled or have been exposed to someone ill with the virus; and
— avoid non-essential travel, as well as crowded places and events.