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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

Manitoba is again shutting down Winnipeg bars and casinos, but will keep restaurants and fitness centres open, as the province moves to control a steep surge in cases of COVID-19 this past week.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s Chief Public Health Officer, said Friday in a news briefing that he was “quite concerned” with positivity rates on virus tests that reached 6.3 per cent in the Winnipeg metropolitan region and 5.2 for the rest of the province this week, while the daily case count in the province climbed to 173, the highest since the pandemic began in March.

“These numbers show we’ve lost our way,” Dr. Roussin said as he renewed pandemic restrictions for Winnipeg, included reducing the limit on gatherings outside households to five people for the next two weeks.

Just more than half of the 3,173 total reported cases in Manitoba to date are currently active.

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But compared with Quebec and Ontario, which have closed indoor-restaurant dining and fitness centres in hotspots such as Montreal and Toronto, Manitoba public-health officials are implementing more limited restrictions. They’re also urging people to return to the “fundamentals” of keeping COVID-19-safe to curb the spread.

Dr. Roussin said that means they have to again limit contacts outside of their households and “avoid enclosed, crowded places." Only one parent should go with children to sporting events and entire families should not go shopping, he cautioned.

Dr. Roussin said in order to reduce hospitalizations and deaths, the focus on fundamentals includes the need to keep contacts down. The province has reported 11 COVID deaths since Oct. 9, including three elderly women in their 70s and 80s in long-term care homes. The age group most affected by infections right now is 20- to 29-year-olds, Dr. Roussin said.

Bars, casinos, VLT lounges, bingo halls, beverage rooms and entertainment facilities are the only establishments now being forced to close under Manitoba’s restricted orange level. Other public venues, such as fitness centres, malls, museums, libraries and stores can continue to operate at 50-per-cent capacity, including restaurants, which will have to limit table seatings to five people.

Last week, the province moved last call in Winnipeg to 10 p.m., and city bars and restaurants were ordered to close by 11 p.m.

Dr. Roussin also warned that people should stay home if they are sick or experiencing symptoms.

“People are going out gathering and to parties while ill,” he said.

Leona Star from the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba announced the first COVID-related death within a Manitoba First Nation – a person in their 70s – during a Facebook Live event held by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs on Friday.

The secretariat said 105 new cases were reported among First Nations this week and that there are a total of 243 active cases on and off reserves in the province. Indigenous Services Canada has reported 87 cases on reserves in the province.

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said it was a matter of time before the virus found its way into First Nations.

“It’s hitting all of our communities,” Chief Dumas said, adding the communities need to return to the cautionary measures implemented during the first wave that kept COVID out. Manitoba First Nations had zero reported cases on reserves during that time, according to Indigenous Services Canada data.

Earlier this month, however, the province declared an outbreak in Little Grand Rapids in northeastern Manitoba when 19 people from the First Nation tested positive following a string of community events in late September. By Thanksgiving Day, the community had reported 40 cases.

Northern Manitoba has been a restricted travel zone since September, with limits on non-essential travel to and from communities.

Dr. Michael Rutledge, Medical Officer of Health for First Nations and Inuit Health in Manitoba, said while the increase in cases is what public-health officials expected in a second wave, a lot of the infections they’ve identified are related to close contacts.

“We’re seeing this in close clusters,” Dr. Rutledge said during the Facebook Live event with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

“Focus on not having larger gatherings, limit contact to household, limit non-essential travel. We need to get back to what we were doing in the summer."

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