N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Businesses could begin opening as early as summer, Higgs says
New Brunswick government also releases its COVID-19 case projections
- 3 new cases include child, two adults in same family
- Government releases COVID-19 projections
- Virus consistently turns up less frequently in New Brunswick
- Province delays hunting and fishing season
- Stay home over Easter weekend
- Province's income benefit program ends Thursday
- Premier hopes to delay fishing season
- What to do if you have symptoms?
Premier Blaine Higgs said Thursday there's a chance New Brunswick could begin jump-starting the economy and regain a sense of normalcy within a matter of months.
"There is hope New Brunswick can return to normal in some form this summer," Higgs declared during the regular afternoon media briefing after the province announced three new confirmed cases of COVID-19.
That brings the provincial total to 111, a number that officials and researchers say shows the restrictive measures in place are working — so far. But hauling back restrictions, or non-compliance, could have devastating and deadly consequences for New Brunswickers and their health-care system, according to new projections released Thursday.
Higgs said his government is considering the steps it would take to allow businesses to reopen. That includes maintaining physical distancing practices in the meantime and testing for potential carriers returning to the workplace.
"Then we look at each business and we say, 'OK, how can this one operate, how can it meet the social distancing required in the situation, and how can we allow it to start up," he said.
Opportunities New Brunswick, which is co-ordinating the program for working capital loans between $100,000 and $1 million, is now assisting 1,200 businesses.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wasn't as optimistic in his remarks Thursday, saying "this is the new normal" until a vaccine is developed, which could be a year or two away.
Higgs said any move to reopen businesses would depend on how the next weeks and months play out and the economy won't be fully restarted until there is a vaccine.
But the premier is concerned about the financial fallout.
"We believe there is a balance here because if people don't have a job, if they don't have income, if they don't have a future that they can see and a livelihood, they can become more stressed, we can have social situations that become unbearable and we don't want to see that happen," he said.
More than 64,000 people applied for the province's one-time $900 payment for affected workers.
In an interview Thursday morning with CBC News, Higgs also explained how the provincial government coffers have been hit by the pandemic. The province is losing out on $40 million in revenue per month, and Higgs said he's concerned about equalization transfer payments with Alberta's economy "devastated."
It raises questions about how the government will maintain critical services in a prolonged shutdown.
"We're saying, 'Are we going to be able to borrow money?' We need to maintain critical services and be able to supply everyone what they need," said Higgs, who even raised the notion of applying for federal disaster funding.
"So, how we get businesses up and running and contributing again is a focus because we need that source of revenue."
Here is a roundup of other developments.
3 new cases include child, two adults in same family
The province announced three new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.
All three cases are in the Fredericton area. Cases include a person under the age of 10, a person between 30 and 39 years old and a third 40 to 49 years-old. All of the cases are in one family after one family member travelled from Ontario more than a week ago, Premier Blaine Higgs said.
"I want it to be clear how easy it is to not only have your family impacted, but how easy it is to spread to other members of the community," he said.
These new cases bring the total number of cases up to 111.
The number of COVID cases continues to rise, but slowly, said Dr. Jennifer Russsell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health.
Fifty-three people have recovered from the virus.
Government releases COVID-19 projections
COVID-19 could kill between 550 and 1,750 New Brunswickers over the next 18 to 24 months, until a vaccine is available, projections released by the provincial government Thursday reveal.
"These aren't just figures on a graph. These are people. These are New Brunswickers," Premier Blaine Higgs said.
Between 15 and 132 could die by the end of this month, Health Minister Ted Flemming said.
Had there been no public health measures, as many as 5,600 New Brunswickers could have died, said Flemming.
The number of people in intensive care could hit a peak of 84 on any given day this month, under the worst-case scenario model, which was based on northern Italy's data, he said, and acute care hospitalizations, 194.
At least another two weeks of data is required to be able to project a peak of the pandemic.
Higgs said New Brunswick's relatively low numbers to date make accurate projections challenging.
"And that's been kind of the focus here is how accurate can we be?
"We want to make sure people realize this is very, very real. The potential is very, very high. And so the situation that we present … needs to be as accurate as possible."
Virus consistently turns up less frequently in New Brunswick
As of Tuesday, when New Brunswick had 105 cases of COVID-19, it had the fewest cases per capita of all the provinces.
And while New Brunswick has tested less for COVID-19 than most provinces, in testing that has been done, the virus consistently turns up less frequently in New Brunswick than elsewhere — once in every 58 tests since the beginning of the pandemic last month.
By comparison, in neighbouring Nova Scotia the virus has shown up once in every 35 tests and in Quebec, once in every 13 tests.
New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said she supports making the province's projections public.
The modelling is important, she said, so the province can be prepared and adjust plans, if required.
Province delays hunting and fishing season
The province will delay the opening of recreational fishing and hunting season for a minimum of two weeks.
This position will be evaluated again on April 30.
According to the government's website, all Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development have been ordered to close until further notice.
Stay home over Easter weekend
This week, Premier Blaine Higgs and Dr. Jennifer Russell have been urging people to stay home and to avoid family gatherings and church services over the Easter weekend.
Right now, Higgs said, New Brunswickers are doing what Public Health is asking of them to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19.
But he made it clear all that could change if people take part in social gatherings.
"If we continue to follow the rules closely, we can be a game changer in New Brunswick," Higgs said.
Earlier this week, Higgs said he was aware of at least two ATV rallies planned for the weekend, but on Thursday, Higgs said organizations like the New Brunswick All Terrain Vehicle Federation have made it clear they aren't going to sanction any rallies.
"This isn't the weekend to head out," he said.
Police and RCMP officers have the authority to enforce the rules against gatherings of any kind, Higgs said.
"Will they proceed with that enforcement? I hope it won't be necessary. But if it is, yes they will. We must adhere to the rules for our own health and safety."
Province's income benefit program ends Thursday
The deadline for the provincial emergency income benefit has come to a close. The $900 was meant to help New Brunswickers who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
Despite concerns raised around access to the benefit, Premier Blaine Higgs remained strong that there would be no extension.
"It was very, very clearly a stopgap until the federal government benefit was going to come into play," said Higgs of the $900.
New Brunswickers were told they would have until 8 p.m. Thursday night to register for the benefit.
But that wasn't the case for some New Brunswickers, like Samantha Williams. The Sussex woman called the line Thursday morning, and after waiting for just over an hour, was told registration for the benefit was already closed and it could not be reopened.
"I'm definitely a little disappointed. I mean I was really counting on that money. It's a scary time for sure and you never really know what's going to happen," she said.
On Thursday morning, Higgs told Information Morning Fredericton that there were "technical issues" on the GNB website, which resulted in them closing online registration earlier than expected.
On Tuesday, Higgs said more than 60,000 people applied for the benefit to date, and more than $20 million had already been paid out.
Liberal MLA for Moncton Centre Robert McKee called on the government to extend the New Brunswick workers emergency income benefit for people who lost their jobs or had to close their business because of the COVID-19 outbreak
But McKee said members of the Liberal caucus have received "many" calls in recent days from people experiencing problems with online applications and in trying to reach someone on the phone.
Premier hopes to delay fishery
Premier Blaine Higgs says he wants Fisheries and Oceans Canada to delay the spring fishing season in New Brunswick.
The government is in discussions with other provinces about what it would mean for them, he said.
"But I think if we had a choice it would be delayed at least for a few weeks and maybe maybe a little longer."
If the season is delayed, and especially if it's cancelled, Higgs said he would expect the federal government to provide compensation to fishers.
What to do if you have symptoms?
Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough or breathlessness. In this case, residents should:
Stay at home.
Immediately call Tele-Care 811.
Describe symptoms and travel history.
Follow instructions carefully.
With files from Colin McPhail, Danielle McCreadie