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After a Fatal Pandemic in January, What’s Next for Manitoba?

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As January comes to an end, the families and friends of 170 Manitobans aren’t content with the idea that omicron is milder than any other previous variants.

According to a report, January 2022 is the province’s third deadliest month of the pandemic. Between New Year’s Day to January 31, 170 people suffering from COVID-19 have lost their lives.

The monthly death toll was the highest during the second wave of COVID-19. The virus ravaged personal care facilities during this time, killing hundreds of helpless Manitoba senior citizens.

A total of 243 Manitobans succumbed to COVID in November, while 355 died in November.

At first glance, it might appear difficult to connect the fact that omicron is milder with the loss of life over the past month. But omicron is milder on a per-case basis, which means that the percentage of patients who die from it is lower than previous variants.

Omicron transmission, however, is so widespread that Manitoba was unable to monitor it nearly a month ago. It is possible that there were more COVID cases in these past few weeks than during the last twelve months.

“The problem with omicron is that there’s just so much of it,” said Dr. David Fisman, a University of Toronto epidemiologist.

“If you have 30 or 40 times as many infections, it doesn’t matter if you’re 30% less likely to die.”

Another reason for the high deaths last month could be the recurrence of the delta variant, which is far deadlier than omicron.

The province hasn’t performed enough genetic sequencing to know the extent of the delta variant.

“Indications are that hospitals and ICUs specifically are continuing to see the presence of both the omicron and delta variants amongst our inpatients,” a spokesperson for Manitoba Shared Health said.

Whatever the delta-omicron divide turns out to be, hospitalizations for COVID continue to be a problem for Manitoba.

The province established a new record for the pandemic on Monday when 735 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 occupied hospital beds. From that number of patients, 56 patients received intensive care, a record for this wave of the pandemic thus far.

The pressure to improve health care could cause Heather Stefanson’s Progressive Conservative government to phase out restrictions much more slowly than expected.

On Friday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the premier would present a plan of sorts to ease restrictions. The ongoing pressure on hospitals has delayed the implementation of this plan to the next stage.

Manitoba‘s current public health order is not due to expire until February 8. Medical experts urge the province to hang on even longer, or at least as long as it becomes clear more transmission won’t result in more cases than hospitals can handle.

“We’re going to get through this. It’s going to end. But if we just turn all the dials in one direction at once, what you’re going to do is just wind up in a situation where you reimpose restrictions in a month or a month and a half because you’ve really kind of created a nasty situation for health care,” Fisman said.

“So I understand the temptation. I think everybody’s very, very tired of the pandemic, but a place like Manitoba is already starting with very little capacity for a surge in cases.”

This may not be the information that Manitobans are looking forward to hearing. Many are fed up with restrictions on gatherings and business regardless of whether they agree with the recourse to public health measures or not.

Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease doctor in Regina, urges officials throughout the Prairie provinces to resist pressure to relax the rules too fast.

“I would just implore to the best of our ability all policymakers to just try to leave what you have in place in place for the next two or three weeks,” he said, noting Manitoba hospitals are struggling now and Saskatchewan health-care will follow shortly.

There is no way to know if the omicron wave will be the last crest of the pandemic. The attempts to predict the outcome have been unsuccessful before.

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