Tightened public health restrictions are coming for Manitobans who are not immunized, as the province tries to avert a surge of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in need of a critical care bed.

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Tightened public health restrictions are coming for Manitobans who are not immunized, as the province tries to avert a surge of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in need of a critical care bed.

"This is a very significant lockdown on the unvaccinated," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday, at a noon-hour news conference with Health Minister Audrey Gordon.

"This is just the benefit of the vaccine that you look at these orders and feel that they’re not very restrictive, and they aren’t to a vast majority of Manitobans," Roussin said.

"But to those that are not yet vaccinated, these are some of the most restrictive orders we’ve had."

On Tuesday, the province will move to orange/restricted on its pandemic response system and retail capacity will be reduced to 50 per cent in the Southern Health region.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin</p>

ALEX LUPUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin

Additional restrictions on gatherings come into force across the province, reducing private indoor and outdoor gathering sizes between households if any attendee is unvaccinated; reducing capacity for faith-based services where unvaccinated people are in attendance; and reducing informal outdoor public gatherings to 50 people.

The new restrictions do not apply to children born after December 2009, who are not eligible for immunization. All previous public health orders will remain in effect.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said she hopes Manitobans will comply with current and upcoming restrictions to reduce the growing threat to the hospital system.

"What I hope is that Manitobans will see the urgency of getting vaccinated and doing the right thing, and they themselves will say these restrictions have now come forward and we are going to honour and adhere to those restrictions," Gordon said.

For the past two weeks, COVID-19 case counts have been increasing in Manitoba, primarily driven by high levels of community spread in Southern Health. The region boasts the lowest vaccination uptake in the province, with a majority of cases occurring in people who are not vaccinated against the disease.

Public health said it could take as little as three weeks for Southern Health to have its daily case count double to 94, enough to substantially increase demand on the acute care system.

However, compliance with vaccination requirements, mask wearing, testing, and public health investigations within communities that form the region has been low. In the past week, five area businesses were fined for breaking public health restrictions.

Gordon and Roussin were repeatedly asked how the province will enforce the new restrictions — especially on private gatherings — and whether any additional resources would be deployed to ensure compliance with existing restrictions.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

Health Minister Audrey Gordon

Gordon said the province is taking a "whole of government" approach, as Manitoba Justice officials consult local enforcement agencies on strategies to gain compliance and health officials in each region focus on breaking down vaccine hesitancy.

"It’s the merging of the enforcement with the proactive assistance in terms of explaining to individuals about vaccines, how they protect you from COVID and ensuring there’s that education," Gordon said.

The introduction of further restrictions is a measure to protect surgical and acute care capacity for Manitobans who have been waiting for required medical procedures, officials added.

According to the province, more COVID-19 patients were admitted to intensive care during the week of Sept. 19 than throughout the entire month of August.

As of Friday, all COVID-19 patients in ICU were not fully vaccinated, and half of those were from Southern Health.

“It’s the merging of the enforcement with the proactive assistance in terms of explaining to individuals about vaccines, how they protect you from COVID and ensuring there’s that education.” – Health Minister Audrey Gordon

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer with Shared Health, said while the hospital network prepares for a surge in demand on resources through the fourth wave, priority will be given, as much as possible, to non-COVID-19-related care.

As a result, patients who need a hospital bed may be transferred to a facility in Manitoba outside of their home community. Siragusa said there are open and staffed beds outside of Winnipeg that could be put to better use.

"We are quite intent on our need to preserve surgical capacity at this time and ensure that Manitobans have timely access to care, and especially those who cannot postpone their surgeries any longer," she said.

"We also believe there's a need to ensure that we minimize the impact to non-COVID care for the majority of Manitobans by reducing the surges and COVID demands on our system."

There are approximately 30,000 surgical procedures that have been delayed and are becoming urgent, Siragusa said.

“We look like we’re on the brink of another rise in ICU admissions. This is our time to reverse the trend, this is our opportunity." – Dr. Perry Gray

Dr. Perry Gray, chief medical officer with Shared Health, said at a rate of two COVID-19 ICU admissions a day, non-COVID-19 care will be impacted.

If three or more COVID-19 patients are admitted to ICU per day, out-of-province transfers may be required, he added.

"We look like we’re on the brink of another rise in ICU admissions," Gray said. "This is our time to reverse the trend, this is our opportunity."

Approximately 400,000 Manitobans have yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19, including children under the age of 12.

Roussin said while the focus on areas of low vaccination and high COVID-19 spread may come off as "blaming and shaming, it's really not about that."

"We're concerned about our fellow Manitobans in Southern Health... We're concerned about our fellow Manitobans falling ill, and that's exactly what we're seeing."

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.