Manitoba logged its second-highest COVID-19 case count more than one year into the pandemic, on the same day that new public-health restrictions came into effect and others were announced.
On Sunday, officials reported 532 new coronavirus cases — just short of the previous record of 546 infections on Nov. 23, when the province was hitting the peak of the second wave.
The surge came after Saturday's 488 new infections and after 502 cases Friday, which had been the second-worst until Sunday.
The province did not release details about whether any of the new cases have been linked to a variant of concern. That would only be announced from Tuesday to Saturday, officials said.
But three new deaths were reported Sunday, all related to the B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the U.K. The deaths on Sunday included a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 80s from the Winnipeg health region, along with another woman in her 60s from the Prairie Mountain health region.
Around 80 per cent of all cases have been confirmed by the province to be in Winnipeg. The provincial capital had 422 new cases Sunday, followed by 40 in Southern Health, 34 in Prairie Mountain, 27 in Interlake-Eastern and nine in the Northern health region.
"It’s not the orders that are causing cases, it’s people in general that aren't adhering to health orders," Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, told reporters during a technical briefing Sunday afternoon.
"If you had all of the restrictions in the world and people aren’t going to adhere to those restrictions or orders... they just won't work like that," said Atwal. "With the restrictions we have in place and like all restrictions, they only work as well as the behaviour of individuals."
Earlier in the day, Manitoba's chief health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said around 20 per cent of all COVID-19 cases "seem to be coming from" school-aged children.
But asked by reporters at two different press briefings about modelling or contact data that would show where infections seem to be surging, neither provincial nor public-health officials would provide an answer.
Dr. Atwal said he also does not know whether new infections could arise among people that have already received their first or even second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"That's something we're looking at and looking to provide when we can," said Atwal. "We'll be doing that and we'll share that type of information when we have it."
There are now 3,499 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. Since Friday, 1,578 new cases have been reported.
A total of 993 people have died in Manitoba as a result of COVID-19.
There are 210 people hospitalized — including 52 in ICUs — for care related to COVID-19.
The test-positivity rate is now 13 per cent in Winnipeg and 10.9 percent provincially.
As of Sunday, gyms and fitness centres are closed, as well as religious, community and cultural gatherings, museums, galleries and libraries, personal services, indoor sports and recreation, day camps, and dance, theatre and music schools. Retail stores, markets, garden centres and malls can still be open, but only at 10 per cent capacity up to 100 people.
As of Wednesday, all kindergarten to Grade 12 students in schools in Winnipeg and Brandon will be switching to remote learning.
All of the new measures will be in place for at least three weeks.
"We'll see what comes next, but we're still optimistic about things right now," said Dr. Roussin. "It's definitely very likely all Manitobans that are 12 years and older will be eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 sometime very soon, by the end of the three week period."
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press.