Public health orders won’t change in the north, which saw 105 new COVID-19 cases Jan. 21

Northern Manitoba posted a triple-digit increase in new COVID-19 cases Jan. 21, accounting for more than half of all the new cases in the province and more than Winnipeg and the other three health regions combined. 105 of 198 new cases of the virus announced by the province on Thursday were in the north, with the Island Lake health district seeing 43 new cases, the Lynn Lake/Marcel Colomb/South Indian Lake/Leaf Rapids health district 16 and the Bunibonibee/Oxford House/Manto Sipi/God’s River/God’s Lake health district 10 new infections. There were also nine new cases in the Cross Lake/Pimicikamak health district, seven in the Shamattawa/York Factory/Tataskweyak/Split Lake health district, five in the Thompson/Mystery Lake health district and four in the Gillam/Fox Lake health district. 

Ther have now been 3,183 cases of COVID-19 in the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) since the pandemic began and there are 1,559 active cases. The 29th death of a northern resident, a woman in her 60s from the Grand Rapids/Misipawistik/Moose Lake/Easterville/Chemawawin health district, was one of five deaths announced on Thursday. Previously, the province had announced what was listed as the 29th death of an NRHA resident among its statistics but that number was later revised back to 28 prior to today’s announcement, likely due to a data correction. Across Manitoba, 793 people have now died as a result of the virus since the pandemic began.

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Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Premier Brian Pallister announced Jan. 21 that public health orders are being relaxed in four of the province’s five health regions to allow limited social gathering, the operation of hairstylists and barber shops at reduced capacity and the in-person purchase of non-essential items, but the north will not see any changes until Feb. 13 at the earliest, after the next set of public health orders are in place for three weeks.

“Because of the current case counts and test positivity in Northern Manitoba and many First Nations, we’re going to not have the loosening of these restrictions apply to the north, including Churchill,” said Roussin.

Asked if restrictions could be eased on a community-by-community basis in the north, given its large geographic size, Roussin said right now there are cases dispersed throughout the NRHA but that the regional approach could change in the future.

“Right now we’re going to include the entire north but watch things quite closely,” he said.

He also said no further travel restrictions were being contemplated other than those already in place, including the ban on non-essential travel to the north.

Pallister said the fact that some northern communities, including First Nations, are COVID hot spots right now, is part of the reason why the province is working with First Nations to vaccinate residents aged 70 and over.

“We’ve worked in partnership with our Indigenous leadership, medical leadership to get those vaccines up there but it’s not the same thing dishing out a vaccine in St. Theresa Point or Pukatawagan as it is in some urban  community so there’s challenges there,” the premier said. “The people up in the northern communities that are working on delivering that vaccine are doing great work and we thank them for that.”

There are 268 people in Manitoba hospitals due to COVID-19 as of Thursday, 125 of whom have active cases. There are also 34 patients in intensive care, including 23 who are still considered infectious. Thirty-two northerners, all but one of whom are still considered infectious, are in hospital due to the virus, nine of them in intensive care.

The provincial five-day test positivity rate as 9.2 per cent Jan. 21 and the total number of cases in Manitoba since the pandemic began has passed 28,000.

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