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Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba deputy chief provincial public health officer, speaks during a COVID-19 live-streamed press conference at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg on March 5, 2020.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government is keeping many schools closed and boosting promotions of COVID-19 vaccines while it continues to battle a third-wave pandemic surge.

Schools in Winnipeg, Brandon and some other hard-hit areas moved to remote learning earlier in the spring because of high case counts in their regions. The government had floated the idea of reopening classes next week, but announced Thursday students will continue to stay home for the most part.

“Test positivity rates and the number of cases in hospital and (intensive care units) are still too high to broadly reopen schools in certain parts of the province,” Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief public health officer, said.

There will be some allowance for small groups of up to six students to meet in-class with a teacher for services such as end-of-year assessments, Education Minister Cliff Cullen said.

The province reported 360 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths. Intensive care units remained swollen and 39 COVID-19 patients were receiving care in other provinces in an attempt to free up bed space.

Health officials also reported the death of a woman in her 50s who had been transferred to Ontario on May 23. It was the second death of a Manitoba COVID-19 patient who had been sent out of province.

While daily infection rates have dropped in the last two weeks, the number of people in intensive care could increase another 10 per cent by next week before starting to drop, Atwal said.

The Progressive Conservative government has been looking to boost vaccination rates to stem the pandemic tide. Premier Brian Pallister announced new community grants and an advertising campaign to convince more people to get their shots.

“We all want to get back to some sense of normal, and the path forward to do that is to get Manitobans vaccinated as soon as possible,” Pallister said Thursday.

The province will offer grants of up to $20,000 each to community groups, local sports teams, arts organizations and religious groups to promote vaccinations.

The money could be used for anything from sending out reminders to get a dose to offering prizes to people who roll up their sleeves, the premier said.

A new ad campaign will feature visuals of empty seats at football stadiums, theatres and airports with the phase: “Miss these seats? Get vaccinated.”

Almost two-thirds of Manitobans aged 12 and up have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but the rate is much lower in some areas, including the core area of Winnipeg and some rural areas south of the capital.

Pallister left the door open to the government offering more vaccine incentives – directly to people – in the future.

In public consultations last month, the government raised the idea of free meals, museum admissions and financial payments of up to $100.

“This isn’t the final announcement … so I won’t rule out that there’ll be some individual incentivization,” Pallister said.

“There’s lots of people that aren’t involved directly in a community group, a sports group, a church group, a cultural group … so we’re going to look to reach them in other ways.”

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