New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province declares state of emergency

New Brunswick has declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, giving the government broad powers to enforce business closures and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, Premier Blaine Higgs announced Thursday.

Confirmed cases jump to 7, with 4 probable

Premier Blaine Higgs said he is convinced the province can manage the pandemic if everyone reacts properly. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

New Brunswick has declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, giving the government broad powers to enforce business closures and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, Premier Blaine Higgs announced Thursday.

It comes as the number of confirmed cases has jumped to seven, and the number of probable cases stands at four. No one has been hospitalized. 

The government did not make the decision lightly but was compelled to take this "extraordinary measure" because too many people are still not following the advice of public health officials, Higgs told reporters during the daily briefing in Fredericton.

"These are unprecedented actions, but these are necessary as we are in unprecedented times."

There are seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick. (Photo: CBC News)

Retail operations must close, with some exceptions, such as grocery stores, retailers of fuels, repair garages, post offices, financial and lending institutions, convenience stores, hardware and automotive parts, animal and fish feed providers, pharmacies, gas stations, NB Liquor and Cannabis NB. 

All businesses required to stop admitting patrons are permitted to sell online or over the phone and to arrange delivery or pickup of purchases.

Premier Blaine Higgs declares state of emergency in New Brunswick

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At a news conference Thursday, Higgs listed the businesses and operations that have been ordered to close immediately. 2:59

All food and beverage businesses will be reduced to takeout and delivery service only, and all bars must close.

Barber shops, hairdressers and salons must also cease operations.

Public schools, universities, colleges, and private schools must remain closed to students until further notice.

Plumbers and electricians are exempted as long as they haven't been outside Canada because they will have to self-isolate within their home for 14 days after their return to Canada.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, said she supported the measure to "ensure compliance."

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, says the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has jumped to seven. (Photo: Mike Heenan/CBC)

She said she is "concerned" New Brunswickers are not doing enough to help the health-care system manage the crisis, preventing further illness and saving lives.

Russell has asked people to stay home if possible and to maintain a social distance of six feet, or about two metres.

"Before this was a recommendation, today it's a requirement," Higgs said.

"I am convinced that this decision to declare a state of emergency is the best way to protect everyone in New Brunswick," he said.

The Happy Baker with empty seats inside its closed location in downtown Fredericton. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

"It will allow us to avoid the dire situation we are seeing in other areas around the world."

Speaking of people not following the government's advice, Higgs pointed to travellers being picked up at the airport and driven home by family and friends as if everything was normal.

"We believe that 'it won't happen to me.' And you know what? It's happened to a lot of people and right now folks in Italy are saying, 'I wish I paid more attention.'"

According to the Public Health website, 410 of the tests done so far have come back negative for the virus.

What about enforcement?

If people don't follow these orders, the province will look at different ways to enforce the new rules and look at "next steps," Higgs said. 

"This is not optional."

Asked if it's possible someone could go to jail for disobeying, Higgs said the declaration does provide authorities with such powers.

"But that is not our intent," he said. "Nor do we hope that we get there.

"But I think that residents need to understand that we only do this to ensure that these rules, these requirements, must be followed."

Here is a roundup of other developments Thursday:

Listen to your doctor

According to government, every person who has been directed by a physician to self-isolate, has to obey.

Every person who has been outside Canada will self-isolate at home for 14 days after their return to Canada. If they experience symptoms of COVID-19, they need to self-isolate until they are free of symptoms. 

All regulated health service providers are stopping a lot of their regular operations but not essential or emergency health care.

Most unregulated health services providers have to immediately stop their operations, under the declaration of a state of emergency.

What about my business?

Government has also ordered owners and operators who run places that attract large groups to now limit gatherings to 10 people at most.

Owners and managers of all workplaces and activities have been ordered to ensure minimal interaction of people within two metres of each other and carry out other prevention advice from Public Health.

Hotels can stay open provided they reasonable steps to prevent gatherings of more than 10 people.

Meanwhile, the right of landlords to evict tenants for not paying rent has been suspended until May 31. 

What about my driver's licence?

All licences, registrations, certificates and permits issued by the Province of New Brunswick that are valid as of March 16, will remain valid until May 31 unless suspended by a court or by other authority under an Act of the Province.

Service New Brunswick is also working with the Department of Public Safety to address services that can't be done online because certain documentation must be presented in person.

Service New Brunswick announced earlier this week that it was closing all centres for now. 

Clinic picture uncertain

If patients without a family doctor have health issues unrelated to COVID-19, they should contact a local walk-in clinic where possible, the New Brunswick Medical Society says.

This could be difficult to navigate, since some walk-in clinics are open and others have closed because of the outbreak. The closures include the Mountain Road After Hours Medical Clinic in Moncton and the Millidgeville Medical Clinic in Saint John.

Three new presumptive cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed, bringing the province's total to 11. (Shutterstock)

At the New Maryland After Hours Clinic near Fredericton, patients are being encouraged to call the clinic instead of waiting in groups to see a doctor.

On Wednesday, chief medical health officer Jennifer Russell encouraged patients who don't have family doctors but need prescription renewals or help unrelated to the coronavirus to call 811. 

It wasn't clear from Russell's answer how the 811 service would get people help from doctors, but she did say the province was working on the issue with the medical society. 

According to the society website, as of July 2018, more than  44,000 New Brunswickers were without a family doctor.

Provincial parks close 

Following government's decision to shut down all non-essential services, all provincial parks are closed until further notice.

This closure includes the three provincial parks which are usually open during the winter months: Mount Carleton, Mactaquac and Sugarloaf.

Why Saint John Transit is offering free fare 

Saint John Transit will not be collecting fares from passengers taking the bus. 

Riding the bus in Saint John is free for the time being. Saint John Transit has asked passengers to enter through the back doors of buses to avoid contact with drivers. Passengers with disabilities can still board through the front doors.

Trish Ellsworth, chair of the Saint John transit and Parking Commission, said public transit is for people who cannot and do not have an option to work from home, like health care providers and grocery store workers.

"This is not now a free–for–all to go on a coffee date with some friends, as our government officials have been saying for a number of days now. We should be isolating and we should be staying home if at all possible."

Air Canada suspends flights

Air Canada has postponed a number of domestic flights that will affect four New Brunswick airports until April 30.

The suspended flights include:

  • Flights between Ottawa and Moncton starting March 23.

  • Flights between Saint John and Toronto starting March 23.

  • Flights between Montreal and Bathurst starting March 23.

  • Flights between Fredericton and Toronto starting April 1.

Saint John Airport director of commercial development, Jacques Fournier said even before the announcement, the number of travellers on departure flights had already fallen off dramatically.

"There's a lot of people arriving, and not a whole lot leaving, said Fournier. "Obviously everybody is scrambling to get back home. We believe that April will obviously be very slow until the curve [of Covid-19 cases] can be settled down a little bit."

What to do if you have any symptoms?

Symptoms of coronavirus can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. With any of these, residents should:

  • Stay at home.
  • Immediately call Tele-Care 811.

  • Describe symptoms and travel history.

  • Follow instructions carefully.

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Sarah Morin

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