WINNIPEG -- The Province of Manitoba has declared a state of emergency amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier Brian Pallister made the declaration Friday morning. It will be in effect for the next 30 days.

“This decision was not made lightly. However, we must continue to use every tool available to ‘flatten the curve’ and reduce the spread of COVID-19 on our communities and our health-care system,” said Pallister. “Our government is focused solely on the health and safety of all Manitobans. This move will enable us to react more quickly on a broad range of supportive measures to stop the spread for COVID-19 and ensure that essential services are available for all Manitobans during this global health pandemic.”

The decision, made under the province’s Emergency Measures Act, officially limits public gatherings of more than 50 people on any indoor or outdoor premises.

Retail businesses, such as grocery or food stores, shopping centres, pharmacies and gas stations must ensure separation of one to two meters between patrons.

Public transportation facilities must also make sure people assembling are able to reasonably maintain a separation of one to two metres from others.

All hospitality premises and theatres are limited to 50 people, or 50 per cent of the capacity of the premises, whichever is less, and all fitness facilities are to close.

Pallister is calling on Manitobans to help enforce these new rules.

“I encourage Manitobans as you come across a situation where people are not observing the social distancing rules, I'd like you to go on the Internet and tell everybody, not to shop there. Don't go there, don't honor that kind of behavior. In fact, it's a dishonor, it's unsafe.”

Individuals who violate the act can face fines of up to $50,000 and six months in prison, according to Dr. Brent Roussin, Chief Public Health Officer.

“As almost always, Manitobans will follow our advice, and we see that just giving the advice last week we see many organizations many individuals following suit,” he said. “Now having it an order under an act, we expect even more people to comply with that. And if we have reports of individuals or organizations that are putting the health of the public at risk, then we have abilities to enforce that.”

Corporations that violate the act can be fined up to $500,000, Roussin says.

Manitoba has confirmed 17 cases of COVID-19 in the province as of Friday afternoon.

While social distancing remains important, Pallister is also calling on Manitobans to look out for the most vulnerable in the community.

“Social distancing does not mean social isolation,” he said. “We have mental health challenges in our province, across the country, around the world right now that aren't going to be assisted by people living in fear, and alone. So we need to do our part to stay in contact, especially with friends and family who are vulnerable right now.”

Pallister added, “Contact them, make sure that they have a sense of being connected to you. Make sure that they're able to be confident that they're part of a world that isn't just their room.”