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Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister leaves a news conference in Ottawa, on Sept. 18, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Manitoba has further toughened restrictions meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 as Ontario’s premier hinted at “tough” new measures ahead.

Manitoba, which has the highest per capita infection rate in Canada, announced it’s tightening the rules for social gatherings and shopping.

“COVID-19 case numbers are very concerning, to put it mildly,” Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday as the province reported 475 new infections and eight deaths.

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“They continue to cause significant strain on our health-care system.”

Over the past five days in Manitoba, 14 per cent of COVID-19 tests have come back positive.

Starting Friday, people will no longer be allowed to have visitors in their home unless they are providing supports such as child care, tutoring and health services. Anyone who lives alone can have one visitor over to socialize.

Stores can only sell essential items inside and must close off sections that offer non-essential goods such as consumer electronics. Capacity in big-box stores will be limited to 25 per cent of capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.

Ontario is expected to announce new restrictions for hard-hit areas in Toronto and surrounding regions on Friday, but Premier Doug Ford had no details on Thursday when his cabinet was set to discuss recommendations from public health officials.

“As it’s looking, these measures – they will have to be tough in the hardest-hit areas,” he said.

Premier Doug Ford says Ontario's hospitals are in jeopardy because of increasing COVID-19 case numbers and his government will announce action Friday to address the problem. The Canadian Press

“We’re seeing concerning trends. Our hospital ICUs are in jeopardy. Our long-term care homes are at risk. We have some difficult but necessary decisions to make.”

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Ontario had 1,210 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, along with 28 new deaths from the virus. There are 526 in hospital, including 88 on ventilators.

There are 150 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, according to the Ontario Hospital Association. The Ontario government’s medical advisers have said that’s the threshold at which hospitals would need to cancel surgeries.

Quebec, meanwhile, recorded 1,207 positive tests in its update Thursday. There were 34 new deaths, including seven in the past 24 hours.

There are 651 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in that province, along with 101 in intensive care.

Premier Francois Legault is to hold a news conference late Thursday afternoon alongside provincial health and education ministers.

Legault has said he would soon unveil rules around holiday gatherings and announce a decision on whether the school winter break will be extended.

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In the North, Nunavut, which recorded its first COVID-19 case less than two weeks ago, reported four new infections for a total of 74.

The territory started a two-week lockdown Wednesday of non-essential businesses, schools and other services.

Yukon, which has 26 confirmed cases, is re-imposing a two-week isolation period for most people entering the territory starting Friday.

Meanwhile, the Canadian leading a United Nations road map for COVID-19 recovery said much human progress has been eroded by the pandemic and that now is the time to make lasting changes.

The road map outlines 25 research priorities having to do with health, social protection, economic recovery, macroeconomic responses, multilateral collaboration and social cohesion.

“This pandemic has been a grand revealer of the many challenges that our world faced before the pandemic, and of course, we’re going to face afterwards,” said Steven Hoffman, the scientific director of the Institute of Population and Public Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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He noted 71 million people have been pushed into poverty in 2020, 90 per cent of students were out of school at some point and that rates of domestic violence have increased by 30 per cent in some countries.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is tapping a former national security adviser to lead a probe into whether Canada's pandemic warning system fell down just before COVID-19 reared up. The Canadian Press

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