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Manitoba reducing isolation requirements for people vaccinated against COVID-19 in the new year

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The Manitoba government is changing the self-isolation requirements for people who have tested positive for COVID-19, including cutting the time in half for fully vaccinated Manitobans not showing symptoms.

Starting on Jan. 1, new requirements will be in place, "to adapt to the prevalence of rapid antigen tests and to help address the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant," according to a news release sent late Friday afternoon.

The changes include:

  • Everyone who tests positive to isolate, including people who did a rapid antigen test;
  • Slashing isolation requirements to five days from 10 starting the day of being tested for fully-vaccinated people not showing symptoms;
  • Isolation requirements going to five days from the previous 10 starting on the date symptoms appeared or the date a test was done, whichever day was later, for fully vaccinated people as long as their symptoms are improving and they do not have a fever;
  • People who have isolated for the five days will be required to wear a medical-grade mask while in a public setting for five days following their self-isolation; and
  • Isolation will be 10 days for people who are not vaccinated starting the day of their test if their symptoms improve and they don't have a fever.

"We have looked at data from Manitoba and other jurisdictions and feel these changes will balance reducing the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring critical services can continue to operate," said Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, in a news release.

Health officials are advising people who leave self-isolation to avoid any non-essential visits to high-risk areas.

Officials added that close contacts who are not exempt from self-isolating will be required to isolate for 10 days and COVID-positive people will still be required to provide information about where they have been in the last 10 days for contact tracing.

"I ask all Manitobans to get immunized as soon as possible, including a third dose when eligible to reduce the number of close contacts they have, and to stay home as much as possible to reduce the risk of severe illness and reduce the spread of COVID-19."

Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon said these changes mean everyone will be required to isolate regardless of whether they test positive or not and it will help reduce pressure on the health-care system.

Epidemiologist Cynthia Carr said officials are learning the incubation period for Omicron is much shorter compared to normal COVID-19.

"One of the challenges previously was the long incubation period, where you could be infected and not know it for eight, 10 days," said Carr. "The five-day duration seems more in line with the peak infectious period of Omicron."

She added this change will alleviate some of the stress on the health-care system as well as the general workforce as people won't be waiting as long to return to work.

"The key for everyone though, is regardless of the number of days, if you have any symptoms at all, you must continue to isolate. Don't just say, 'Well it's been five days, I'm done.'"

When it comes to the new medical-grade mask rule, Carr said the province will need to clarify what constitutes a medical-grade mask so that Manitobans can understand what they need to have, noting not all masks, such as KN95s, are considered medical-grade.

CTV News has reached out to the province for more details.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew reacted to the new isolation rules on Twitter, saying he is "skeptical" that the changes were guided by health experts.

"Announcing late on New Year's Eve without a press conference doesn't inspire confidence this is in the best interest of Manitobans," he said.

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