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Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer, takes off his mask to speak during the province's COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg on Oct. 30, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister quoted from the Bible on Monday as he promised to fine people who attended an antimask rally on the weekend as the province’s COVID-19 numbers continued to rise.

“One of the things I always hold high in that book is a phrase (that) says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Maybe you could reflect on that a little bit when you consider … the dangers that COVID is posing to real Manitobans right now,” he said.

“I’ll simply say that the consequences of stupidity are going to be felt by the people who were there violating the rules, and they should look forward to and check their mailbox – waiting for a penalty to come in the mail to them.”

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Well over 100 people attended the event Saturday in Steinbach, Man., southeast of Winnipeg. It’s an area sometimes called the Bible Belt for its strong religious roots, although many people at the rally came from out of town.

The protesters spoke out against the province’s mandatory mask use in indoor public places and against other public health orders. The crowd far exceeded the province’s five-person cap on gatherings.

Not far away, the hospital in Steinbach was dealing with a surge of COVID-19 patients. The Manitoba Nurses Union had said on Friday some patients had to be triaged in their cars because the emergency department was full.

Mr. Pallister said more details would come Tuesday, but hinted provincial fines, which are $1,296 per person, could be based on the licence plates of vehicles seen at the rally.

Health officials reported 392 new cases and 10 additional deaths Monday. Manitoba continues to lead the country in the number of active cases per capita.

The government last week closed restaurants, bars, gyms, non-essential retail stores and other facilities in an attempt to reduce the increasing caseload. The chief public health officer said Monday the health system was continuing to struggle to keep up with demand.

“Our hospitals are near capacity, we have over 40 people in (intensive care) with COVID-19 right now,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.

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“Our health-care providers are becoming overwhelmed.”

Dr. Roussin and Mr. Pallister both hinted that restrictions could be further tightened.

Currently, stores that supply items deemed essential – a long list that includes groceries, prescription drugs, computer equipment and office supplies – are allowed to remain open at 25 per cent of normal capacity. Big-box stores that offer those essentials can continue to sell non-essential goods as well.

Mr. Pallister hinted that could soon change. “That doesn’t seem to me very fair,” he said.

“We’re seeing some advantage being taken and … because of that, we’re forced to act to counter that.”

Dr. Roussin said some people are still not getting the message about the need to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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He noted that some stores are exceeding the capacity limit, parking lots are full, and one COVID-19 case on the weekend had 85 contacts.

Dr. Roussin warned that hospitals are running at near-capacity, even as the province opens up new intensive care beds.

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