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Gisella Greschner, 97, has a bandage applied after receiving her COVID-19 vaccination at a clinic in Winnipeg on March 1, 2021.Kevin King/The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government on Wednesday expanded the number of people eligible for COVID-19 vaccines and set up an online portal to provide another way to book appointments.

With more doses arriving, the province reduced the minimum age for the general public to get vaccinated by two years. First Nations people 53 and older and others 73 and up can now get their shots.

“We’ve been really fortunate to be able to keep dropping the age,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province’s vaccine committee.

“I anticipate that probably early next week, we’ll be talking about people who are 65-plus.”

People in younger age groups can already get vaccinated if they are health-care workers, are employed in congregate settings such as homeless shelters and retirement homes, or if they have underlying health conditions.

The online booking will complement the existing telephone reservation line. The site also contains information about the vaccines Manitoba is using and the locations of inoculation sites.

The province is expecting demand for the vaccines to be quite high. The government released results Wednesday from a combination of opinion surveys and online consultations done in recent months.

Nine per cent of thousands of respondents were classified as skeptical or hesitant about getting the vaccine. More than 80 per cent were labelled as already vaccinated, keen to get a shot, or likely to seek one.

“I am really encouraged by that,” Reimer said.

“If we can get 80 per cent of Manitobans immunized, we’re going to be in a completely different situation than we were at this time last year.”

Manitoba’s COVID-19 numbers have dropped sharply from a spike last fall but have been creeping upward in recent days.

Health officials reported 96 new cases and no new deaths Wednesday. Three cases from unspecified dates were removed due to data correction, so the net increase was 93.

The province also revealed that nine recent cases were of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, bringing the total number of cases involving variants of concern to 64.

The rate of people testing positive – measured as an average over five days – has also crept up recently. It stood at 4.4 per cent across the province and 3.4 per cent in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

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