N.B. to welcome Canadians with immediate family, property in province
Loosening of restrictions comes same day province sees its 1st COVID-19-related death
New Brunswick plans to open its borders to Canadians who have immediate family in the province or who own property, starting June 19, provided they self-isolate for 14 days, Premier Blaine Higgs announced Thursday.
Cabinet and the all-party COVID-19 committee have also deemed attending funerals and burials for an immediate family member in New Brunswick essential travel, he told reporters during a news conference in Fredericton.
The decision to loosen restrictions comes the same day New Brunswick had its first COVID-19-related death and a new confirmed case — both linked to a long-term care facility in the Campbellton region, where there is an outbreak.
Daniel Ouellette, 84, who tested positive for COVID-19 at the Manoir de la Vallée in Atholville last week, died Thursday morning at the Campbellton Regional Hospital.
Four other elderly residents and four employees have also tested positive for the respiratory disease, including the latest case, a health-care worker in their 20s.
They are among a cluster of 15 active cases now in the Campbellton region, also known as Zone 5. A 16th person, one of the infected health-care workers, lives in Quebec, and will be counted in that province's statistics.
Four people remain in hospital, including one in intensive care.
Officials have linked the outbreak that started May 21 to a medical professional who travelled to Quebec for personal reasons and returned to work without self-isolating for the required 14 days.
Higgs said he, like all New Brunswickers, received the news of the first death "with a heavy heart" and offered his condolences.
But the rest of the province will move forward with the next phase of the yellow level of the COVID-19 recovery plan Friday, as scheduled, after being delayed by a week, he said. The Campbellton region will remain under the stricter orange phase.
"It's a combination of sadness and hope," said Higgs.
The premier noted that Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell had cautioned New Brunswick would see COVID-19 related deaths.
"So unfortunately that day did come," Higgs said.
The one-week delay on the next step in the yellow phase, however, gave Public Health officials time to determine how widespread the outbreak is and to take the measures needed to protect New Brunswickers, he said.
About 4,000 COVID-19 tests were completed last weekend in the Campbellton region over 72 hours.
"It is contained and we need to move on," said Higgs. "You know we've seen a lot of anxiousness … a lot of pent-up emotion that's related to the restrictions that we've had to put on our province."
We are grieving today, but we're also moving forward.- Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health
More than 300 people are self-isolating as a result of contact tracing, including six health-care workers, said Russell.
She added most of the people self-isolating are in the Campbellton region, with "only a handful" elsewhere in the province.
Russell said it has been difficult to witness the unfolding outbreak.
"It has gripped the community in stress and worry, and now, in grief," she said, describing it as a "very sad day for all New Brunswickers."
"We are grieving today, but we're also moving forward. … The overall health of New Brunswickers requires that we move forward with due care and attention while maintaining our caution against the disease.
"We have seen unintended consequences [of isolation], we've seen collateral damage for people's mental health, for people's income, for people who have not been able to access treatment and surgeries in a timely way due to the postponing of these things because of COVID-19."
What's allowed Friday?
Starting Friday, indoor gatherings of up to 10 people in private homes will be permitted across the province, except for the Campbellton region.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people, and religious services, including wedding and funerals, of up to 50 people will also be permitted, indoors or outdoors, with physical distancing.
Residents in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, special-care homes, adult residential facilities and hospitals, will be allowed to have up to two visitors outdoors, with physical distancing.
"We recognize that not every facility will be able to do this, but we want to be able to give them the option to do so if they can," said Higgs, adding he realizes it has been difficult on family and friends who have not been able to visit their loved ones.
Elective surgeries and other non-emergency health-care services will increase.
And low-contact team sports will be permitted. "Sports may operate as per the guidance provided by their respective national or provincial organizations if they identify means to limit the number and intensity of close contact during play," the province said in a statement.
In addition, the following will be allowed to open:
- Swimming pools, saunas and waterparks, with a limit of 50 people in each activity area.
- Gyms, yoga and dance studios.
- Rinks and indoor recreational facilities, with a limit of 50 people in each activity area, and limit of 50 spectators.
- Pool halls and bowling alleys.
If all goes well, starting June 19, overnight camps will be allowed to open.
Long-term care facility residents will also be allowed to have indoor visits with one visitor at a time, unless the visitor requires support, in which case, two visitors will be allowed.
Higgs said Canadian relatives who will be able to visit the province include a parent, child, sibling, grandchild, grandparent and "significant other."
Guidelines for travel allowed for funerals or burials will be available next week, he said.
The reopening of other sectors remains to be determined, based on how the province is managing a resurgence of the virus. These include casinos, amusement centres, bingo halls, arcades, cinemas and bars without seating, as well as trade shows and conferences, large live performance venues and larger public gatherings.
Atlantic summer travel possible
Higgs said he understands remaining in the orange phase of recovery is "frustrating" to those who live and work in the Campbellton region.
"But taking the proper precautions in the short-term will have positive long-term impacts in our province," he said. "Working together, we will get through this challenging time."
Higgs noted it might be possible to have a tourism bubble with P.E.I. by "early summer."
Plans were put on hold amid the outbreak, but Higgs said he will have discussions with the Atlantic premiers about the possibility of allowing travel between provinces.
"The next couple weeks will be telling, however, because we are watching closely what unfolds for us here in the province," he said, referring to the incubation period of the virus.
New Brunswick has recorded 136 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March. To date, 120 people have recovered.
As of Thursday, 32,299 tests have been conducted.
Doctor may have made 'error in judgment'
The doctor at the centre of the outbreak, Dr. Jean Robert Ngola, told Radio-Canada's program La Matinale on Tuesday he's not sure whether he picked up the coronavirus during the trip to Quebec or from a patient he saw in his office on May 19 who later tested positive.
Ngola, who has been suspended and is under investigation by the RCMP, said he made an overnight return trip to Quebec to pick up his four-year-old daughter because her mother had to travel to Africa for her own father's funeral.
He drove straight there and back with no stops and had no contact with anyone, he said, and none of his family members had any COVID-19 symptoms at the time.
He did not self-isolate upon returning, he said. He went to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital the next day.
"Maybe it was an error in judgment," said Ngola, pointing out that workers, including nurses who live in Quebec, cross the border each day with no isolation required.
Minister defends northern border crossing
The province's public safety minister is defending a border crossing that residents of a small village near Campbellton fear is letting in too many people from out of the province.
On Tuesday, Tide Head Mayor Randy Hunter said there were more vehicles with Quebec licence plates in the area than there should be considering COVID-19 restrictions and that the province is giving the wrong impression about how much traffic there is at the crossing.
"The premier's reporting and the news is reporting perhaps 60 to 70 cars a day, well that is not factual," said Hunter.
"I know people that work for public safety there and the average [number of cars] on that bridge is about 200 a day."
The checkpoint is located on the New Brunswick side of the border, a short distance from the bridge to Matapédia, Que.
But Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart said there was a bit missing in that interpretation.
There are about 200 vehicles making that crossing every day, but only 65 of them would be private vehicles.
"Approximately 65 [private vehicles] the other day and then 130 commercial. So you're looking at approximately 200 all together," said Urquhart.
Urquhart said public safety officers are the ones that determine whether someone can come into the province or not, but that commercial vehicles are checked to make sure they're actually making deliveries.
Urquhart said he's convinced there isn't a security issue at the border, and while he would love to send more public safety officers up there, they're needed elsewhere.
"If I had a lot more people I could put them all over the province," said Urquhart.
"You have to work with all you have."
What to do if you have symptoms
People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment on the government website at gnb.ca.
Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included: a fever above 38 C, a new cough or worsening chronic cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, new onset of fatigue, new onset of muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell, and difficulty breathing. In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with two of those symptoms are asked to:
Stay at home.
Call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor.
Describe symptoms and travel history.
With files from Jordan Gill, Information Morning Saint John and Fredericton