N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 1 death, pandemic isn't over because Higgs 'wishes it to be,' warns Coon
Green Party leader says COVID measures must be relaxed slowly, with money in March budget to mitigate impact
- Breakdown of deaths, hospitalizations, cases
- Higgs not invited to sign letter urging end to trucker vaccine rules
- New vaccine approved for adults
- Cross-border change won't change much for border towns, says mayor
- Miramichi Timberwolves have 2 positive cases
Green Party Leader David Coon says if Premier Higgs is going to continue to relax pandemic Public Health measures, he must do so slowly while making "significant provisions" in the March budget to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
"The pandemic isn't winding down just because Premier Higgs wishes it to be the case," Coon said in a statement, as the province recorded another COVID-related death Thursday and hospitalizations decreased by 10 to 79.
New Brunswick will enter Level 1 of the COVID-19 winter plan, the least restrictive level, on Friday at 11:59 p.m.
Higgs has said he hopes to lift all COVID restrictions in March.
"Last fall we saw the negative consequences of removing all public health requirements while we were still in a pandemic," said Coon, suggesting dropping restrictions in July affected the severity of the fourth wave.
He has been "hearing concerns and anxiety from seniors, people who have disabilities or chronic health problems, and parents with children who are too young to be vaccinated," he said.
The province must put in place a plan that protects those most vulnerable to serious illness, hospitalizations and death.
This should include funding to upgrade the ventilation in public buildings, provide universal access to N95 masks, and ensure all New Brunswickers have access to paid sick days so they can stay home when they test positive, Coon said.
In an emailed statement, Higgs said Coon was part of the all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19 leading up to the province's opening up last summer.
"He is aware of Public Health's recommendation and how the committee and cabinet arrived at its decision in terms of lifting restrictions at that time," he said.
"Public Health's advice remains the cornerstone for decisions made," he added.
Breakdown of deaths, hospitalizations, cases
The COVID-related death reported Thursday is a person in their 70s in the Miramichi region, Zone 7, according to the dashboard.
Of the 79 people in hospital, 39 were admitted for COVID-19, and 40 were admitted for something else when they tested positive for the virus.
Nine people are in intensive care, unchanged from Wednesday, and five of them are on ventilators, also unchanged.
Sixty-four of the people hospitalized are 50 or older, a group considered at higher risk. Two are in their 20s, two are in their 30s and three are in their 40s.
In ICU, there are three people in their 40s, one in their 50s, one in their 60s and four in their 70s.
The seven-day average of COVID-related hospitalizations now stands at 108, down from 116. The seven-day average of people requiring intensive care also dropped to 12 from 13.
Provincewide, hospital occupancy decreased one per cent to 88 per cent, while ICU occupancy dropped five per cent to 72 per cent.
There are nine more health-care workers off the job after testing positive for COVID, 362 in total. That includes 170 from the Horizon Health Network, 139 from the Vitalité Health Network and 53 from Extra-Mural/Ambulance New Brunswick.
Through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests, Public Health has confirmed 321 new cases of COVID, putting the province's active case count at 3,441, an increase of 179.
An additional 742 people self-reported they tested positive on rapid tests.
The regional breakdown of PCR-confirmed cases includes:
Moncton region, Zone 1
109 new cases and 1,154 active cases
Saint John region, Zone 2
66 new cases and 667 active cases
Fredericton region, Zone 3
62 new cases and 641 active cases
Edmundston region, Zone 4
27 new cases and 361 active cases
Campbellton region, Zone 5
10 new cases and 106 active cases
Bathurst region, Zone 6
33 new cases and 343 active cases
Miramichi region, Zone 7
14 new cases and 169 active cases
A total of 715,327 PCR tests have been conducted to date, including 1,549 on Wednesday.
As of Thursday, 48.6 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their booster shot, up from 48.3 per cent, 86.3 per cent have received two doses of a vaccine, up from 86.2 per cent, and 92.7 per cent have received one dose, up from 92.6 per cent.
New Brunswick has had 33,968 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with 30,228 recoveries so far and 297 COVID-related deaths.
Higgs not invited to sign letter urging end to trucker vaccine rules
The premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan have signed a public letter urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden to reverse the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.
Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC News he was not invited to sign the letter, but offered no further comment.
Earlier this week, Higgs spoke in favour of dropping the requirement that prompted protests at Canadian border points and cities, including the one in Ottawa, which is nearing its fourth weekend and has led the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canada's history.
"I think the path forward is clear. There needs to be changes, obviously, to the passport requirements and the vaccination requirements of truckers moving back and forth across the border," he told reporters during a videoconference Monday.
It was the truckers that kept us going without vaccines and went into the hotspots in the very height of COVID.- Blaine Higgs, premier
"I would argue that because certainly at this point, but also previously because it was the truckers that kept us going without vaccines and went into the hotspots in the very height of COVID and brought goods and services back home to us here in New Brunswick.
"And they did that without any protection of any kind, only their own personal precautions," he said.
"So it's time to move on. And I would like to think that the federal government will look [to] and work with the U.S. government to find a path there for cross-border movement."
The mandate, which took effect on Jan. 15, states that all Canadian cross-border essential workers — including truckers — must show proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at a port of entry to avoid a two-week quarantine and stringent testing. Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated non-Canadian truck drivers are denied entry.
The U.S. has imposed a similar vaccine mandate.
Today, I've signed a letter along with <a href="https://twitter.com/PremierScottMoe?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PremierScottMoe</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/GovGianforte?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GovGianforte</a> and 15 other American governors urging President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau to drop the cross-border vaccine mandate for truckers.<br><br>It's bad public health theatre and it needs to go.<br><br>Read below ⬇: <a href="https://t.co/xGKUaE98dT">pic.twitter.com/xGKUaE98dT</a>—@jkenney
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe say getting vaccinated is important, but contend the mandate will force out thousands from the trucking industry and aggravate existing supply chain problems.
"The trucker vax mandate has no credible public health benefit, but has caused predictable disruption," Kenney posted on twitter Wednesday.
Sixteen U.S. governors of states ranging from Georgia to Alaska have also signed the letter.
Kenney said he "got the ball rolling" on the letter during the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., in late January.
He did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but has said he expects more leaders to sign in the coming days.
Higgs did not say if he intends to sign.
New vaccine approved for adults
Health Canada has approved a new COVID-19 vaccine for adults.
Novavax's Nuvaxovid is the first protein-based COVID vaccine authorized for use in Canada.
Trial data involving about 45,000 people in multiple countries suggests the vaccine is more than 90 per cent effective in preventing severe illness and death, when given two doses, 21 days apart.
The trials were conducted by Novavax when the Alpha variant was predominant, but Novavax will be "required to provide data regarding protection against current and emerging variants of concern, when available," Health Canada said.
The first shipment is expected to arrive next month.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) continues to "preferentially" recommend mRNA vaccines for people 18 and older who have no contraindications, but says Nuvaxovid may be offered as a primary series or a third dose for people in this age group "who are not able or willing to receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine."
Health Canada's chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, said both vaccine types have the same objective — to expose a person's immune system to the SARS-CoV2 spike protein and activate the immune system to make antibodies to neutralize it the next time the person is exposed to the virus. But their approach is different.
"mRNA vaccines contain molecular manufacturing instructions for our cells to make the spike protein. With a protein subunit vaccine, a modified version of the spike protein itself is delivered," she said.
"These vaccines cannot cause COVID-19 because they only contain small purified pieces of proteins and not the virus itself."
Protein-based vaccines are already used for other diseases, such as hepatitis B, pertussis (whooping cough) and influenza.
The most common potential side effects of Nuvaxovid are said to be similar to those of the four previously approved COVID-19 vaccines in Canada: soreness at the injection spot, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, nausea and headaches.
Cross-border change won't change much for border towns, says mayor
The mayor of Woodstock says changes to cross-border travel at the end of the month won't make much difference for border towns like his.
Fully vaccinated travellers will no longer have to show proof of a negative molecular test, such as a PCR, when entering Canada, effective Feb. 28, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Tuesday.
They will still need to take a pre-arrival test, but a rapid antigen test is acceptable. Antigen tests are typically cheaper than molecular tests and can provide results within minutes.
Arthur Slipp says any testing is a hindrance.
"What everyone's waiting for is when we can cross the border without testing at all," he said.
"Certainly, the changes in testing will help some, but I think the incidental cross-border shopping and travel isn't going to be greatly impacted."
Under the new rules, unvaccinated children under the age of 12 entering with fully vaccinated parents will no longer have to avoid schools, day cares or other crowded settings for 14 days.
The government also plans to lift its current advisory against non-essential travel abroad.
If conditions continue to improve, further measures, such as the testing requirement for Canadians visiting the United States for trips under 72 hours, could also be dropped, Duclos has said.
Miramichi Timberwolves have 2 positive cases
Two members of the Miramichi Timberwolves have tested positive for COVID-19, the Maritime Junior Hockey League announced Thursday.
"The affected players and team staff are isolating, as required, and the team is continuing testing," according to a news release.
No other details will be released, it said, citing privacy.
Two games have been postponed because of the positive cases:
- Friday - Miramichi at Fredericton
- Saturday - Campbellton at Miramichi
New dates have not yet been released.
With files from Shift