WINNIPEG — Manitoba plans to continue cracking down on retailers not following public health orders as officials say COVID-19 is starting to impact vulnerable populations at a higher rate.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, announced 344 new cases and 14 more deaths on Friday.
"The weekend is coming up, so there’s always those urges to get together with others or to run non-essential errands," Roussin said.
"But my ask to you is to stay home." There's been a surge of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba over the last few months and the province has brought in significant restrictions, including mandated masks in indoor public spaces and the closure of restaurants and bars.
Churches and stores that sell non-essential goods are also supposed to be closed. Retailers allowed to stay open are required to block off non-essential products, although they can still be purchased online for curbside pickup.
The province issued a $5,000-ticket to a Winnipeg Costco this week for selling non-essential items.
The Church of God near Steinbach was also issued a $5,000-ticket for holding a service last Sunday. The church has posted online its intention to hold another service this weekend.
Roussin said enforcement will continue because Manitoba's health-care system cannot sustain its current rate of infections. There were 322 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Friday, with 45 of them in intensive care.
"These orders are in place to save Manitobans' lives," Roussin said. "An organization or individuals trying to find ways around it need to understand you are putting Manitobans at risk."
COVID-19 has begun to disproportionately affect vulnerable populations during the second wave, he added. There has been an increase of infections in homeless shelters, group homes and other services.
The government announced earlier Friday plans to provide a wage top-up to people who work in group homes, homeless shelters and personal care homes.
Families Minister Heather Stefanson said the $35-million wage support program is to provide an extra $5 an hour to about 20,000 front-line workers for two months. Stefanson said it will help workers who are facing a lot of stress as infections increase.
Only workers making less than $25 an hour can apply.
"Our homeless shelters are also experiencing staff shortages due to positive cases and we are seeing the virus spread into our child and family services group care homes," Stefanson said.
She did not provide numbers of infections in these facilities or populations, but said that as of Thursday there were infections among workers and participants in 16 disability service agencies.
Employees who are unable to work due to a COVID-19 infection or are waiting for test results will not receive the money. Stefanson said she does not believe it will incentivize people to work while sick.
Half the cost of the program comes from federal COVID-19 funding.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2020.