Public-health officials would not say Thursday if code-red restrictions are being renewed or relaxed when they expire Saturday morning.

"Anything could happen in a 24-hour period," deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal told reporters Thursday.

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Public-health officials would not say Thursday if code-red restrictions are being renewed or relaxed when they expire Saturday morning.

"Anything could happen in a 24-hour period," deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal told reporters Thursday.

Manitoba reported 208 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, the first time the number exceeded 200 since before Christmas. Meanwhile, the provincial test-positivity rate, another important measure of how well restrictions are working, dipped to 9.9 per cent provincially and 10.5 per cent in Winnipeg. Hospitalization numbers have fallen, but the situation is far from positive.

"We still have a high number of cases in acute care," Atwal said.

Anything could happen in 24 hours, says Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Anything could happen in 24 hours, says Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

There were 228 people in hospital with active COVID-19 Thursday and 91 with COVID-19 who are no longer infectious, while 31 intensive-care patients are being treated with active COVID-19; four in intensive care are no longer infectious.

"We are still seeing that holiday bump," Atwal said. "Today we're at the tail end of the Christmas bulge."

The impact of holiday gatherings and a possible jump in COVID-19 cases isn't felt for 10 to 14 days, he said. Manitobans won't know how many more cases resulted from New Year's Eve parties for another week.

Atwal told reporters he wouldn't speculate whether the current critical-level orders are being extended or relaxed after Friday's scheduled expiration. He expected more information to be made public on Friday.

Manitoba has been under code-red orders since Nov. 12; health-care providers and hard-hit businesses are anxiously waiting to see what happens next.

"We have heard from a lot of physicians and they are largely in favour of extending restrictions as our COVID numbers are still too high, hospitals are still too vulnerable to a surge in cases and too many surgeries are being postponed," Doctors Manitoba spokesperson Keir Johnson said, adding the organization has shared that view with the provincial government.

"Some physicians also raised concerns about the ongoing impact of restrictions on their patients, particularly their mental health, economic security and the disruption in health services like surgeries. The hope is that some modest improvements could be made based on public-health surveillance that don't risk increased spread of the virus for lower-risk activities or areas of the province."

Manitoba Chambers of Commerce President and CEO Chuck Davidson says businesses want to reopen. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitoba Chambers of Commerce President and CEO Chuck Davidson says businesses want to reopen. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president Chuck Davidson said business owners have been holding their breath since Dec. 30, when Premier Brian Pallister, buoyed by the arrival of vaccines in the province, said there could be some easing of restrictions.

"We were of the understanding the code red could come off," he said, noting Thursday was day 66 of the strict measures. "I've had businesses asking, 'Should I be getting staff in place and ordering supplies?' They want a heads-up on when they can reopen. It's easy to close a business in a short time frame (but) it's a little more challenging to reopen."

Business owners are understanding of the government's actions, but many have been closed for two months, Davidson said.

"There has to be a point in time when we allow businesses to open. They can't live on government subsidies forever, and they're prepared to take precautions," he said.

Eight of the 12 deaths reported Thursday were from Winnipeg (a woman in her 50s, a woman in her 60s, a woman in her 70s, three women in their 80s, a man in his 90s and a woman in her 90s); a man in his 60s and a woman in her 90s from the Prairie Mountain Health region; a man in his 30s from the Northern Health region; and a woman in her 60s from the Southern Health region.

Half of the deaths were attributed to care-home outbreaks at Fairview Personal Care Home, the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, Concordia Personal Care Home, River East Personal Care Home, Charleswood Care Centre and Bethania Mennonite Personal Care Home.

— With files from Malak Abas

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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