Winnipeg-area gathering sizes drop lower than ever, bars to close starting Monday

The limit on gatherings will drop to five people in the Winnipeg area starting Monday, the province says — the lowest Manitoba has gone so far in its effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The new restrictions will be in effect for at least two weeks and apply to the city of Winnipeg and several surrounding municipalities. Gathering limits will apply indoors and outdoors, said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, as he announced a suite of tougher new rules.

Stand-alone nightclubs, bars and beverage rooms will be closed, as will casinos, video lottery lounges and bingo halls in the Winnipeg metropolitan area.

Restaurants, retail locations, museums and libraries will also be limited to 50 per cent capacity, Roussin said. At restaurants, groups at tables will also be limited to five people and physical distancing must be in place.

The changes come amid climbing daily case numbers in Manitoba, especially in Winnipeg. On Friday, the overall test positivity rate in the province was 5.2 per cent and 6.8 per cent in the Winnipeg area.

“We need to make this change, this sacrifice, for two weeks,” Roussin said Friday.

More indoor businesses will also be required to keep logs of people who visit in order to help with contact tracing, Roussin said, including theatres, museums, galleries, libraries and fitness facilities.

The number of spectators at after-school activities and all sporting events will be reduced to 25 per cent of a site’s capacity.

Roussin said the rationale for closing businesses like bars while leaving restaurants, for example, open was based on how COVID-19 has been spread so far.

“A lot of that is based on where we’ve been seeing contact and cases and transmission events, and so we really wanted to focus on those areas,” he said.

Stepping up enforcement

All new rules will be enforceable under the law and the province will work to step up enforcement, Roussin said.

The new rules may be extended beyond the initial two-week period if community transmission in Winnipeg doesn’t drop.

“We know that we can turn the tide quickly. We’ve seen that before,” Roussin said. He pointed to the success of lockdowns in the Prairie Mountain Health region over the summer.

No changes were announced to Winnipeg-area schools on Friday. Roussin said Public Health hasn’t seen much transmission within schools or child-care centres.

“We’re continuing to look at that. Remember that the cases we see in schools are acquired in the community. We’re not seeing a lot of cases acquired in schools — actually very little,” he said.

“The schools and daycares have shown … to be quite safe. We see a lot of cases, but not a lot of cases that were acquired there.”

The new rules won’t affect capacity limits on faith-based gatherings — currently set at 30 per cent of maximum capacity — or gyms and fitness facilities, which are at 50 per cent. Those limits apply to what is considered the “routine business” of the facility, Roussin said, not events or other gatherings hosted at those centres.

The new restrictions come more than two weeks after the Winnipeg area was moved to the orange, or restricted, level on the province’s pandemic response system, and more than a week after additional rules were brought in for licensed restaurants and bars in the region.

All licensed personal care homes in the Winnipeg area were moved up to the red, or critical, level on Thursday, which brought new rules for care home admissions.

Manitoba has reported its worst daily COVID-19 numbers of the pandemic this week, including three consecutive days of record-breaking daily case counts. On Thursday, the province announced its highest daily tally yet: 173 new cases, including 133 in Winnipeg.

The streak of record highs ended Friday, when the province announced 75 new cases, including 63 in Winnipeg.