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Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin speaks during the daily briefing at the Manitoba Legislative Building, in Winnipeg on Aug. 27, 2020.David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government is reimposing travel restrictions to protect northern areas from rising COVID-19 numbers in the south.

Starting Thursday, people will have to avoid most non-essential travel to the north, which has largely been spared so far from the novel coronavirus. There will be exceptions to the ban for work, health care and other matters.

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“As we just saw increasing numbers in many of the southern regions in Manitoba, we just decided that we would move forward with (the travel ban),” Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer, said Monday.

The move was welcomed by a group that represents northern First Nations communities.

“We have no cases of COVID-19 in our … First Nations and our leaders and citizens continue to do everything they can to prevent the introduction of this virus into our communities,” Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. said in a release.

Some tourism is also exempt from the ban. People can visit a cottage, campground or a remote community such as Churchill, if they are symptom-free, travel directly to their destination and avoid going to stores and other facilities as much as possible.

A similar ban was put in place in the spring, but it was lifted in late June as COVID-19 numbers across the province dropped.

At one point in July, Manitoba had just one active COVID-19 case. Infection numbers have since jumped, due largely to clusters in Brandon and on some Hutterites colonies, as well as to ongoing new cases in Winnipeg. On Monday, the active case count had risen to 469.

In Brandon and Winnipeg, the amount of community transmission has been on the rise, Roussin said. And on average, he added, people who have tested positive in recent weeks had been in contact with more people than in the spring.

Roussin said it’s a sign that people are not being as cautious as they were at the onset of the pandemic.

“That, to me, signifies a little bit of stepping back from the fundamentals — that a case has been infectious for longer and having more close, prolonged contact with individuals than what we saw in that first bout we had.”

The province reported 28 new COVID-19 cases Monday, including 13 in the Prairie Mountain health region, which includes Brandon. The region has been under tightened public-health orders since last Monday. Most public gatherings are limited to 10 people and mask use is mandatory in indoor public spaces.

Outbreaks have been declared in the last several days at three nursing homes and on one floor of a Brandon hospital building from staff or patients testing positive. Visitor restrictions have been put in place.

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