New Brunswick

Confusing COVID messages from province trouble members of all-party cabinet committee

Two party leaders on New Brunswick's all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19 recovery say the clarity of government communication about what people are supposed to do is as poor as it's ever been.

One committee member says even he is left confused about COVID-19 restrictions after meetings

Green Party Leader David Coon says government's role is to empower its citizens. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Two party leaders on New Brunswick's all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19 recovery say the clarity of government communication about what people are supposed to do is as poor as it's ever been.

Green Party Leader David Coon said Public Health guidelines are not being made clear to New Brunswickers. 

"One of the things that has been plaguing us, in my opinion, is the weakness in our communication," Coon said Friday when all four leaders appeared on Information Morning.

"I think probably the majority of people in the province do not actually understand what the rules are." 

Coon said he believes most New Brunswickers want to follow the province's rules, but finding clear explanations of them, in a "concise and compelling way," is not being made easy. 

Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, frequently refers people to the government of New Brunswick website, but Coon said it's not an easy site to navigate.

A lot of the information that comes out of these meetings, with the Department of Health and the committee, is like the saying of drinking fire from a water hose- People's Alliance leader Kris Austin

"It's kind of a mishmash to understand what's what, and even what some of the language means," he said. 

The communication problem is serious, Coon said, and needs fixing.

He called on the Blaine Higgs government to create a provincewide campaign of information that would reach people through radio and other platforms.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin agreed with Coon, saying even he has been left in the dark at times. 

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin says he has been left confused by COVID-19 guidlines. (CBC )

"A lot of the information that comes out of these meetings with the Department of Health and the committee is like the saying … 'drinking fire from a water hose,'" said Austin. 

"The information changes a lot because it's a fluid situation and, because of that, people are confused. I mean I sit on the committee and, I'll be honest, I leave and have confusion about some of these rules." 

Austin said communication directed by Public Health needs to be simplified and as consistent as possible. 

More confusion? Higgs gives his take

Russell and the premier have recently delivered inconsistenct information about the Public Health guidelines, the committee members said, pointing to the guidelines for gatherings.

Russell has said New Brunswickers need to find their "safe six," while Higgs appears to have said indoor gatherings of 20 people or under are all right. 

Federal COVID-19 relief funding provided to New Brunswick for municipalities was based on 2020 population estimates, but the Higgs government reverted to 2016 estimates when it handed the money out to cities, towns and villages. (Government of New Brunswick)

CBC's Terry Seguin addressed the topic during the interview, asking Higgs what exactly the guideline is.

"It certainly is the limit that's put in a measure that is out there is 20," Higgs said. "I mean her personal recommendation is to keep it smaller than that, get it as small as you can.

"And I would suggest she's right, keep it as small as you can, but we haven't made that a rule, but we've made it a rule that you have to follow multiple bubbles."

"If Public Health wanted to put that in the final rule, we'll certainly look at doing that. That can be confusing, I understand." 

Higgs said gatherings of 20 are allowed in zones in the yellow phase, but the Moncton region's move back into orange forces people to limit gatherings to family-only, with six being a reasonable number. 

Liberal Opposition Leader Roger Melanson hopes New Brunswick gets treated fairly in distribution of vaccines. (Jacques Poitras/CBC file photo)

Orange phase should be warning sign

Roger Melanson, the interim leader of the Official Opposition, urged New Brunswickers to see Moncton entering phase orange for the second time in a month as a wakeup call. 

"The virus doesn't care who you are or where you live or what your actions are. It's here and anyone can get infected and certainly infect others."

He stressed the importance of following the one-bubble household rule in Moncton and staying at home if possible.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, and Premier Blaine Higgs will hold a COVID-19 briefing Friday afternoon at 3:30. (Government of New Brunswick file photo)

The committee has also been working on the issue of essential workers travelling in and out of the province who initially were not required to self-isolate for 14 days like other New Brunswick travellers.

Weeks ago, the province modified the quarantine required for people coming home after working elsewhere in Canada, telling them they could self-monitor for up to 14 days so long as they agreed to receive three COVID-19 tests in that period. 

Higgs said his government was forced to tighten the rule again, however, because some workers weren't following the less-harsh guidelines. 

He said certain workers made contact with 30 to 40 people after receiving one negative COVID-19 test in the early days of their return home, only to develop symptoms days later. 

"We needed to tighten it down further, that became evident," said Higgs. "We've been trying to work with this and keep people moving as much as normal, but it wasn't working." 

Higgs said he still expects to see some repercussions from people not following the less-harsh restrictions. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton