New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Up to 30,000 layoffs so far as confirmed cases climb to 33

An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 New Brunswickers have been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, Premier Blaine Higgs announced on Thursday.

Premier Blaine Higgs announces $50M to help employers, support economy immediately

Premier Blaine Higgs holds a daily briefing with reporters about the COVID-19 outbreak. (Office of the Premier)

An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 New Brunswickers have been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, Premier Blaine Higgs announced on Thursday.

"We are facing a situation unlike we have ever experienced before," he said as the province's total cases of the viral infection climbed to 33, with seven new confirmed cases, all of them travel-related.

Although the federal government has announced comprehensive measures to support employers, Higgs said there are still "gaps" for businesses to access the working capital they need to address cash-flow shortages.

Chief medical officer of health Jennifer Russell said she expects community transmission cases of COVID-19 to soon hit the province. 2:14

His government will provide $50 million to support the provincial economy, he said.

The funding will provide "bridging support" to assist small, medium and large employers in the immediate term, so they can continue to operate and keep workers employed, he said.

The new cases include:

Zone 1, southeast:

  • An individual in their 20s.
  • Two individuals in their 60s.

Zone 2, south:

  • An individual in their 30s.

Zone 3, centralwest:

  • An individual in their 50s.
  • Two individuals in their 60s.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said a new confirmed case of COVID-19 in P.E.I. arrived at the Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport on March 18 from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on Air Transat flight TS2653

The individual did not have any symptoms of the virus at the time, said Russell.

Anyone returning from international or interprovincial travel is supposed to self-isolate for 14 days, but she wanted to advise the other travellers, she told reporters during her daily update in Fredericton.

Many businesses have closed across New Brunswick, including The Abbey Café & Gallery in Fredericton. (Photo: Mike Heenan/CBC News)

Other provinces are seeing clusters of COVID-19 cases through community transmission.

"These are cases where the chain of contagion cannot be readily identified or traced back to travel," she said.

This means testing will shift to symptomatic healthcare workers, staff of long-term care facilities, prisons, hospitalized patients with respiratory problems, symptomatic workers having to maintain critical infrastructure,  residents of long-term care facilities and other vulnerable people in the community, as well as travellers outside the province.

Here is a roundup of other developments.

43 businesses close after compliance checks

The Department of Public Safety has been checking businesses across the province to see if they're complying to last week's recommendations from Public Health to close.

Higgs said officers followed up on the 43 businesses who were not following the new regulations earlier this week. Those businesses have since closed.

Public safety officers have checked 762 businesses so far and will continue to check on any potential cases of non-compliance across the province.

Support for businesses and workers

Higgs said the province will provide a one-time income benefit of $900 administered through the Red Cross to workers or self-employed people who have lost their job because of the state of emergency. 

"As applicants come in, we're ready to distribute that," he said. 

Higgs said the program will be a $4.5 million investment and is being introduced as a bridge before the federal aid program kicks in.

There are 33 cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick. (Photo: CBC News)

The province is also introducing amendments to provide job protection for workers who need to take a leave of absence because of the pandemic. This includes workers who have gotten sick, are caring for family members or people who have been instructed to self-isolate or quarantine. 

This will provide unpaid leave of up to 15 weeks, without fear of losing their jobs. 

Between 25,000 and 30,000 workers have been laid off in New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs said Thursday. 3:02

The provincial government will also defer loan and interest repayments for existing business loans with government departments for up to six months on a case–by–case basis. 

Small businesses owners, such as restaurants, seasonal tourism operators and the service sectors can apply for a loan up to $200,000 and will not be required to pay principal for up to 12 months.

The province will offer working capital in excess of $200,000 to help medium to large employers manage the impact of COVID-19. This includes manufacturing and processing industries, information technology centres, tourism service operators, business service sectors and cultural enterprises.  

Businesses can apply directly to Opportunities NB for this support.

Opportunities New Brunswick will work with companies to identify different products and services in high demand during the pandemic.

Higgs said the province will also reconsider any additional funding that is required, and affordable housing would be included in this.

Nurses worried

Nurses have growing concerns about the unknowns that come with treating people who might have COVID-19, the president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union says.

Paula Doucet said some people experiencing COVID-19 are still showing up at emergency rooms instead of calling 811 beforehand and visiting one of the province's testing centres. There were 14 sites as of Wednesday.

"It's a question of which data, which resources are we using to ensure that frontline workers have the proper protection required for this virus," Doucet said. 

New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet says she is worried about the safety of nurses across the province during the COVID-19 outbreak. (CBC)

Nurses unions across the country and other health-care unions are following the guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada, along with the guidelines from the U.S. and Europe.

"We are advocating for, at the minimum, a precautionary principle until more is known."

Hospitals in Ontario have had to ration protective equipment for nurses

A security guard stands outside a COVID-19 testing site in downtown Fredericton. (Photo: Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News)

The New Brunswick Nurses Union hasn't been told how many masks are available but has been reassured by government there's "ample supply."

Protecting essential service workers

Russell said it's important to protect essential service workers, such as health-care workers.

"These are the people who are going to look out for us throughout this entire event, the people whose skills and dedication may save your life if you become gravely ill," she said. 

She said it's also important to protect other essential service workers.

"Those who put their own health on the line everyday to make sure we can continue to put food on our tables and maintain the necessities of life," she said. 

She said it's also important to protect society's most vulnerable, including seniors and those with health issues.

There are two testing sites in Fredericton. One is located at the old Daily Gleaner office on Prospect Street. The second is in front of the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre. (Photo: Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News)

According to the government website, there have been 1,795 tests that have come back negative. That number is up from 1,524 Wednesday afternoon.

COVID-19 and Medicare

According to the government website, New Brunswick will cover the cost of COVID-19 services for uninsured people who do not meet the criteria for Medicare coverage.

"This will help to ensure that no one will be discouraged from seeking screening or treatment for COVID-19 for financial reasons," the website said. 

A poster outside a resident's home in Fredericton. (Submitted by Nellie Elizabeth)

Anyone living in New Brunswick, regardless of their current Medicare eligibility status, will be covered by Medicare for any care or service necessary for the treatment of all emergency medical conditions.

Meanwhile, if a person's medicare card expires between March 16 and April 30, their coverage will automatically be extended until June 1.

Small businesses at risk of folding 

Some Fredericton businesses are not sure they will be able to reopen once the pandemic ends. 

Krista Ross, CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, said she's received calls from businesses that are already asking about steps they need to take to declare bankruptcy.

Ross said business owners are scared.

"They have not ever in their careers encountered any situation that would come close to what they're experiencing in these times," Ross said. 

Ross said the 10 per cent wage subsidy offered by the federal government is not enough to offset the loss in business revenue.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, John Wishart, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton, said most businesses in the area have issued temporary layoff notices to staff.

Wishart said it's too soon for businesses to consider bankruptcy. But some businesses are worried about paying for lease costs next month.

David Duplisea, CEO of the Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce, said he's thankful for the federal government's support package, but it's only a temporary solution.

"At the end of the day the bills have to be paid, and there's only so much businesses and taxpayers have to give, especially in a slowed economy," he said in an emailed statement.

Caribou mine halts production

The company that operates the Caribou underground mine near Bathurst has announced it is stopping production for the foreseeable future because of a plunging zinc price and the coronavirus pandemic..

British Columbia-based Trevali Mining Corp. announced Thursday it's shifting the mine into care and maintenance mode but offered no timeline for when the mine could resume production.

Trevali mines for zinc, lead and silver at the property and had employed about 370 people. A news release says the company will provide "transition assistance" to its workforce in addition to severance, though no specifics were provided. 

Watch for suspected child abuse

Social workers are urging the public to watch for signs of child abuse and neglect in their community, as vulnerable children are told to stay at home with their parents during the COVID-19 crisis.

With children out of school for an indefinite period of time, those who are dealing with abuse at home have lost a place they can go to escape, according to Sylvie LeBlanc, a youth social worker at Dieppe's Boreal Centre.

"For a lot of people, when we think of home, it's supposed to be a safe place," said LeBlanc, who offers therapy to children who've been physically, sexually or emotionally abused.

"But for these type of kids, it's not a safe place. Being at home right now, it's probably one of their worst nightmares." 

Missing school also means that teachers and guidance counsellors — a major source of referrals to child protection — won't be able to see vulnerable children every day and monitor how they're doing.

What to do if you have any 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 Sarah Morin, Shane Magee, Karissa Donkin

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