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Across The Board Cafe in Winnipeg's Exchange District on Oct. 31, 2020.Shannon VanRaes/The Globe and Mail

The City of Winnipeg will move into another stage of lockdown on Monday, closing restaurants and bars, darkening theatres, suspending recreation programs and imposing tighter restrictions on hospitals and long-term care homes as cases of COVID-19 skyrocket.

But some residents are wondering why it took so long. On Friday, public-health officials warned that Winnipeg’s intensive care unit capacity reached 96 per cent, with only three beds remaining open. There was no update provided over the situation.

Deborah Gay-de Vries sanitized her hands while using tongs and wearing a mask to hand out Halloween candy on Saturday night. Last year, nearly 80 children walked through the illuminated graveyard in front of her River Heights home. This year, only two trick-or-treaters rang her doorbell.

COVID-19 news: Updates and essential resources about the pandemic

But while she said her family wanted to ensure Halloween was as safe as possible without being cancelled, she said the looming lockdown is needed.

“It probably should have happened earlier,” she said.

Manitoba had record-obliterating COVID-19 numbers going into the Halloween weekend: 480 new cases provincewide last Friday, including 309 in Winnipeg. A further 312 cases were announced across the province Sunday. Of all tests completed in Winnipeg, 9.9 per cent returned positive results.

Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer, said Friday that trick-or-treating could proceed if physical-distancing guidelines were adhered to, but Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman called on people to “consider celebrating in a different kind of way.”

The two-day period between announcing the new COVID-19 restrictions and implementing them raised the spectre of increased transmission for some.

“The longer you delay a change, whether it’s through official action or whether it’s through community responses … the harder it is to slow things down,” said James Blanchard, Canada Research Chair in epidemiology and public health and director of the Centre for Global Public Health at the University of Manitoba. “Case counts is really a lagging indicator.”

Winnipeg restaurants remained open for indoor dining over the weekend, but few were filled to the allowed 50-per-cent capacity. Some establishments closed their dining rooms pre-emptively. Shopping centres including CF Polo Park were largely empty and parking lots at big-box stores in the city’s St. James neighbourhood had reduced traffic both Saturday and Sunday.

However, long lines at some Manitoba Liquor Marts and a steady stream of shoppers at Halloween supply stores suggested some Winnipegger’s still found ways to celebrate over the weekend. The New West Hotel on Main Street invited patrons to “come out and sing before the bars close Monday” on its Facebook page, but reminded its clientele that masks were mandatory.

Janice Weiss used the lag time to grab a bite to eat and a drink at her favourite Osborne Village establishment – Carlos & Murphy’s – and said she felt safe at the restaurant. But Ms. Weiss also endorsed the incoming restrictions.

“We need to clamp down, buck-up for a couple weeks and see if we can get somewhere better,” she said.

Epidemiologist Cynthia Carr, founder of EPI Research, said balancing public safety with economic interests, social well-being and mental health is a difficult challenge. But she echoed the words of Dr. Roussin and said people don’t have to wait for government restrictions to make changes – such as staying home and reducing contacts – to reduce spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“Things are much more serious now and yet it seems to, for some reason, be harder to get everyone’s attention. I don’t know if it’s fatigue or what it is,” Dr. Carr said.

Neither Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister nor Health Minister Cameron Friesen have spoken publicly since the province cemented its position as having the highest per capita infection rate in the country.

Over the weekend, protesters erected an art installation in front of the Premier’s riverfront home – a cardboard cemetery, presided over by an effigy of Mr. Pallister dressed as the Grim Reaper.

In a six-sentence-long statement released Friday afternoon, the Premier said, “We all have a role to play in protecting in ourselves and our loved ones, and I encourage all Manitobans to act now and significantly reduce their number of close contacts and follow the fundamentals.”

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