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Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, speaks during the province's COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg on Dec. 16, 2020.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Despite rising case counts of COVID-19 and the threat of the Omicron variant in the province, Manitoba public health officials would not commit to tightening restrictions, instead saying they will monitor risk factors as the holidays approach.

Manitoba reported 400 new cases of the virus Wednesday for a total of 2,622 active cases. It also announced two new deaths linked to the virus.

One new case of the highly contagious Omicron variant was also reported for a total of 18.

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Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, said the Delta variant still remains dominant, but he expects Omicron will account for one-quarter to one-third of new cases.

“We know that over time Omicron will become the dominant strain,” he said. “On a day-to-day basis, we’re seeing increased number of Omicron positives in our samples as well.”

Tighter capacity restrictions came into effect in Manitoba on Tuesday in the face of the emerging Omicron variant.

Gyms, movie theatres and restaurants – which have all required people to show proof of vaccination – are limited to half capacity.

Private indoor gatherings with vaccinated people are limited to household members plus 10 other people, while gatherings that include anyone who is unvaccinated are limited to one household plus five guests.

Wednesday’s numbers show there were 137 Manitobans hospitalized with COVID-19, including 24 receiving intensive care.

As case numbers and hospitalizations trend upwards in Canada, some provinces such as British Columbia and Quebec have further tightened their public health measures to help curb the spread.

However, Atwal said there’s no specific case number to trigger a change to Manitoba’s restrictions.

He said officials will look at an “overlying risk assessment” that includes current orders, case numbers, test positivity, vaccination rates, hospitalizations and the Omicron variant.

Atwal said he expects case counts exceed Wednesday’s number, as some are unreported.

He said previous waves of the pandemic have shown for every one case identified, three or four are likely being missed.

People on social media posted photos and complaints of long wait lines at Manitoba’s testing sites with some waiting hours to get a swab.

Winnipeg Police said traffic delays were expected near one drive-thru testing site.

Atwal said capacity at the testing sites is being pushed and that is increasing turnaround times for results.

Concern about Omicron has prompted Manitoba Education to push the date when students will return to class to Jan. 10 from Jan. 6.

Education Minister Cliff Cullen said public health advisers recommended a slight delay to help them better assess the risk Omicron poses and to look at options for the new year.

The delay will also allow for more time to distribute rapid tests to schools provincewide, he said.

Cullen expects most school divisions will have access to a supply by the time school returns.

The province also introduced a new program to help support businesses affected by the recent restrictions.

The government said it will provide up to $22-million to about 1,800 businesses. Funding will be based on the number of workers a business employs.

“We want to support businesses that are doing everything they can to maintain their business while making sure people are protected,” said Finance Minister Scott Fielding.

Grants will be available for some types of businesses including restaurants, gyms, movie theatres, museums and performance venues.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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