N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Restaurants can sell liquor with takeout and deliveries
Premier announces amendments to extended state of emergency as province's case total remains at 117
- Province allows restaurants to sell liquor with takeout
- WHO recommended restricting access to alcohol
- No new cases, but public told not to relax yet
- Premier to speak with Prime Minister Trudeau Thursday
- Province asks pharmacists not to charge for prescription refills
- Province doesn't have fiscal capacity to help all municipalities
- Restrictions could be eased if border stayed shut, ex-official says
- Contaminated test kits delivered from China
- Dental offices remain closed, but still able to help
- Restaurants push government to make alcohol a takeout option
- What to do if you have symptoms
Licensed New Brunswick restaurants will be able to sell liquor with takeout and delivery orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Blaine Higgs announced on Thursday.
It's one of the amendments to the state of emergency declaration, which has been extended by another two weeks, he told reporters during the daily update in Fredericton.
It's meant to assist the province's restaurants as they struggle with the ban on dining-in, said Higgs.
The restaurants will have to abide by all of the normal conditions of their liquor licence and "take special care" to ensure they do not deliver to minors, he said.
In the weeks ahead, we will look for other adjustments.- Blaine Higgs, premier
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization/Europe recommended governments restrict access to alcohol during COVID-19 lockdowns.
"Alcohol consumption is associated with a range of communicable and noncommunicable diseases and mental health disorders, which can make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19," WHO said in a statement Tuesday.
Alcohol is also "known to be harmful to health in general, and is well understood to increase the risk of injury and violence, including intimate partner violence, and can cause alcohol poisoning," it said.
"Therefore, people should minimize their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic."
WHO said it "encourages governments to enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption."
Asked how the province would respond to critics who would argue access to alcohol should be curbed during the state of emergency, not increased, chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said the government "weighed the pros and cons."
"Alcohol is probably one of the few drugs that the withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. So there are reasons that we took into account around that and mental health and addictions."
NB Liquor and Cannabis NB stores have remained open during the state of emergency. The premier has previously said the government did not want to allow the black market to explode.
Higgs said Thursday that other provinces have already allowed their restaurants to sell alcohol with food orders.
The government made the change at the request of the New Brunswick Restaurant Association, he said.
In addition, under the amendments, the government said restaurants offering takeout must ensure customers who are waiting on-site for their food must respect the physical-distancing requirement of at least six feet, or two metres.
Gardening and agricultural retailers will also be allowed to reopen effective immediately, the premier said, describing them as an important part of the food supply.
But they must ensure their employees and customers respect the physical distancing requirement.
The state of emergency declaration will continue to be extended until the government is confident the restrictions are no longer needed to slow the spread of the virus, said Higgs.
"In the weeks ahead, we will look for other adjustments" to support the province's businesses, he said.
He said the government is keen to help them recover and for New Brunswickers to begin to return to some of their normal activities.
Here is a roundup of other developments.
No new cases, but public told not to relax yet
There are no new cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick and the total number of cases stands at 117, the chief medical officer of health announced Thursday.
"This is good news, but we must not lose focus," said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
The actions being taken are slowing the spread and building barriers the virus cannot cross, but everyone needs to continue to stay home as much as possible, she stressed.
One case can quickly spread to three other people through close contacts, Russell said. Within a matter of weeks, that can quickly multiply to 2,187 cases.
The declaration will continue to be extended in two-week increments until the government is confident it is no longer needed, he said.
Of the 117 cases, 66 are travel-related, 42 are close contacts of previously confirmed cases, and nine are the result of community transmission. There are no cases under investigation.
During the pandemic, 12 people have been hospitalized and seven have since been discharged. Six patients remain in hospital, including three in intensive care.
To date, 80 people have recovered.
Premier to speak with other first ministers
Premier Blaine Higgs planned to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland and other premiers electronically on Thursday night.
He told reporters he intends to raise his concerns regarding New Brunswick's fishing industry.
"Our processing plants aren't able to start up at this time," he said.
Higgs also planned to discuss the oversupply of food, including potatoes, in the agricultural sector because of the outbreak; financial aid, including rent support, for businesses during the shutdown, and which kinds of businesses should be able to reopen early, and which will have to wait.
"Generally, every province has a chance to talk about their particular concerns," he said of the meeting.
Province asks pharmacists not to charge prescription co-pay
Last month, pharmacists imposed a 30-day limit on prescription refills pharmacists to protect the drug supply.
This has led to more frequent fees than usual in some case
But Premier Blaine Higgs is asking all pharmacists to relieve clients of extra dispensary and co-pay fees.
"Since the pandemic began, I know there has been an issue for some people around paying multiple dispensing fees or co-pays for prescriptions," he said.
"This is because many people who typically receive a refill of their prescriptions to last 60 or 90 days are no receiving refills to last 30 days."
He said officials are working with pharmacists to address the issue. It's also possible the supply of certain drugs is not as uncertain as it is for some others and can be treated differently.
Province doesn't have fiscal capacity to help all municipalities
Premier Blaine Higgs doesn't believe the province can afford to help all municipalities equally during the COVID-19 outbreak.
But he will be discussing the issue with the Association of Municipal Administrators of New Brunswick on Friday.
He said the province will work with the municipalities on a case-by-case basis. He'll also look at their ability to borrow money or run a deficit.
"We won't have the fiscal capacity to just let everyone do the same thing and try to bring them back to where they were," Higgs said.
A lot of municipalities have struggled during the coronavirus outbreak. Moncton and Saint John, for instance, expect the financial hit to be in the millions of dollars.
Canadian municapalities are not allowed to budget for deficits.
Restrictions could be eased if border stayed shut, ex-official says
A slow reopening of New Brunswick, while keeping the borders closed, could be a safe step forward, New Brunswick's former chief medical officer of health says.
It's been almost one month since Premier Blaine Higgs declared a state of emergency, giving the government broad powers to enforce business closures and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"It's important that we start freeing up people as best we can and moving on the economy as quickly as we can, while recognizing that we still have a serious disease to deal with and mitigate," Dr. Eilish Cleary said Thursday.
The province confirmed one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday. No new cases were reported Tuesday and only two new cases were reported on Monday.
Although further testing is required to confirm there are few to no cases of community transmission, Cleary said it's time to move with caution to the next phase.
She said that phase would include allowing businesses to start reopening, with caution, and letting friends visit each other. Gatherings should still be banned, Cleary said.
All of the restrictions have bought the province time, she said, and have created a safer space within New Brunswick.
"We've closed up our borders, we've hunkered down to ride out the storm," Cleary said.
"And although we need more evidence to prove it, the signs are that we've been successful so far."
Cleary made it clear this coronavirus hasn't gone away and is likely to stay for a while yet. Quick detection of the virus is also still needed, even when restrictions are reduced.
"We will continue to see more cases from now until the time we have a vaccine."
Cleary compared New Brunswick to a hedgehog crumpling into a prickly ball to protect itself.
"Just like the hedgehog eventually needs to come out and get some food and water or it will die, what we're doing at the moment is not sustainable."
She said the province should also identify and move to protect vulnerable populations, such as residents of long-term care homes and prisons, by conducting more tests.
"We have to pay particular attention to protect the residents and the staff there," Cleary said.
Contaminated test kits delivered from China
Thousands of kits meant to screen for COVID-19 delivered to New Brunswick from a supplier in China last week were contaminated and unusable.
Dr. Richard Garceau, a microbiologist-infectologist at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, told Radio-Canada more than 6,400 test kits were contaminated.
"As soon as we received them, we realized that they were all contaminated with bacteria … In addition to being contaminated, the product was defective," Garceau said.
The kits included swabs and sterilized tubes.
When asked by a reporter Wednesday about how many test kits the province has, Premier Blaine Higgs said "there are plenty of test kits" to meet the demand for testing.
"Supplies are not restricting our ability to provide maximum health care and testing that we need to do, as it's decided to be done," Higgs said.
On Thursday, Higgs said he was made aware of the defective kits a week ago, and was disappointed by the news.
Dental offices remain closed but still able to help
Dental offices across the province are still closed, but dentists are on call to treat patients in emergencies.
Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Dental Society, said people shouldn't shy away from contacting their dentist if they're experiencing pain.
There are four categories of emergencies: oral facial trauma, significant infection, prolonged bleeding that doesn't stop after 15 minutes, and major pain that can't be managed with over-the-counter drugs.
Resources are being centralized, so only some dentists in major areas, such as Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton and Edmundston, are available to treat emergency situations.
Regular teeth cleanings are not considered an emergency and should be rescheduled once dentist offices are open again.
"In normal times I would say prevention is important, but right now we are under a state of emergency and those services … are not considered to be emergency services," Blanchard said.
The majority of cases are being managed over the phone.
"The dentists aren't in the office, but they are checking the machines."
Blachard said dentists have enough personal protective equipment if they were to encounter a possible situation involving COVID-19.
Restaurants push government to make alcohol a takeout option
Some restaurant owners have pushed the province to change its liquor laws to allow businesses to offer alcohol as part of takeout meals.
Restaurants have been forced to provide takeout and contactless delivery to stay afloat during the pandemic.
It's against the law to sell alcohol off-site.
Jennie Wilson, co-owner of 11th Mile in Fredericton, would like to offer customers wine, beer and cocktails as takeout to pair with meals.
"We do think this idea of providing alcohol along with our meals would further the idea that [customers] are having an 11th Mile experience at home," Wilson said Thursday morning.
Shawna Foster, co-owner of MOCO Downtown, also hopes the government moves swiftly to change the law.
"The sooner, the better," Foster said.
The Department of Public Safety said it's aware restaurants want to offer alcohol and is reviewing the law.
"We're looking for ways to make money now," Wilson said.
"Offering alcohol as a to-go option allows customers to support businesses in another way."
What to do if you have symptoms
People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment on the government website. Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, a new or worsening cough, and breathlessness, as well as sore throat, headache and runny nose. People with two of those symptoms are asked to:
Stay at home.
Immediately call Tele-Care 811.
Describe symptoms and travel history.
Follow instructions carefully.