WINNIPEG -- Manitoba’s current public health orders expire in just over a week, but health officials cautioned it’s still too soon to know which, if any, restrictions will be modified.

“We are headed in the right direction and obviously there’s opportunity here, that possibility for restrictions to be lifted,” Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, told a teleconference on New Year’s Eve

He said more details are expected next week.

“We would have to look at the evidence and the epidemiology closer to the time that the orders expire. We are having discussions about that already and, again, we look at these numbers every single day.

Manitoba reported as of Thursday morning, six more people died of COVID-19 and 187 new cases of the virus have been identified.

“Our case numbers are dropping which is a good thing, and we’re seeing that continual drop,” said Atwal. “We want to continue to see ongoing lower numbers. We also want to see our hospitalizations come down as well. We also have to take into consideration workforce issues.”

So far, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 667 Manitobans, with most deaths occurring in the months of November and December.

A total of 337 people are in hospital because of COVID-19, with active cases in 247 people and an additional 90 people in hospital who are no longer infectious but still require care.

A total of 37 people are intensive care units with COVID-19, four of those patients are no longer infectious but still require care.

Shared Health's Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa said the ICU is still running at 154 per cent above normal capacity.

A total of 111 ICU beds are occupied when you count patients who don’t have COVID-19.

“We have to have these team-based models, we have to redeploy people,” said Siragusa, who added a number of factors will be looked at before the health system can comfortably resume some surgical procedures which have been put on hold while staff redeploy to help out in other areas.

“We are very much wanting to start surgery as soon as it’s safe to do and as long as we know that the staffing is stabilized.” 

Under the current orders, Manitobans cannot have social gatherings indoors with people from outside their household and must limit gatherings to five people for things like physically distanced outdoor activities. 

Retail businesses are restricted to selling only items deemed essential in stores but people can purchase non-essential items for curbside pickup and delivery.

Personal services such as hair salons and barbers are still required to stay shut down. Gyms and fitness centres, libraries and galleries, movie theatres and concert halls all remain closed.

Premier hints some restrictions could be eased 

Premier Brian Pallister suggested some restrictions could be relaxed in the New Year but gave no specifics on exactly when or which rules could change.

“I think it’s almost certain there’ll be some easing of restrictions,” Pallister told reporters Wednesday. “I feel very, very certain as a former coach, teacher, parent, commonsense person that we have to be very, very careful that we remain diligent, that we remain disciplined, we remain motivated by caring and compassion for those who are more vulnerable.”

“If we keep those qualities then we have a chance to do what we were doing for, frankly, eight of the last 10 months which is to beat COVID back somewhat.”

Pallister said the Manitoba government will be seeking input from Manitobans before any decisions are announced.