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Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, speaks during a COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg on Oct. 30, 2020.

JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government is extending its COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings and business operations into January, but is loosening a handful of rules, most notably on drive-in church services.

The current public health order, which bans in-person religious gatherings even in church parking lots, expires Friday night. Starting Saturday, services will be allowed as long as people attend only with members of their household and remain in their vehicles.

“This was one of the measures that we had been contemplating lifting as soon as somewhat reasonable,” Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday.

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“We’re going to watch this very closely and if adherence isn’t very good then we could change course on that.”

The move follows a failed attempt by a Winnipeg church to overturn the order. Springs Church, which had been fined for parking-lot services, asked the Court of Queen’s Bench last weekend to suspend the ban but was rejected.

The change will also allow drive-thru holiday light displays, such as the annual Winter Wonderland just west of Winnipeg, to proceed.

Most of the other rules enacted by the province in November will continue until at least Jan. 8.

Public gatherings remain limited to five. People are not allowed to have visitors in their homes, with some exceptions for things such as health care services. Businesses will continue to be required to sell non-essential items only online or via curbside pickup. Restaurants remain limited to delivery and takeout.

“Our (COVID-19) numbers are still too high. This is not the time to let up,” Roussin said.

Health officials reported 245 new COVID-19 cases and 13 additional deaths Tuesday. The province’s five-day test positivity rate remained high at 13 per cent.

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But Roussin has made some adjustments. Thrift stores are being added to the list of businesses that can operate. School supplies and seasonal holiday decorations are being added to the list of essential items available in-store.

The Winnipeg Jets will also be allowed to practise for a planned National Hockey League season this winter.

With no immediate end in sight to the business restrictions, Premier Brian Pallister announced an expansion of a program that provides $5,000 grants to small businesses and non-profit groups that have been forced to close.

The grants will no longer be limited to operations with storefronts, so home-based tradespeople, photographers and others can now qualify as well, Pallister said.

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