New Brunswick

Health-care workers not exempt from 14-day isolation rule after travel, says premier

Despite a state of emergency being declared in New Brunswick in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, health-care professionals who have travelled outside Canada must abide by self-isolation rules, the same as everyone else, says Premier Blaine Higgs.

State of emergency declared with 7 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 4 probable, but no hospitalizations yet

Premier Blaine Higgs said it's important everyone work toward the goal of saving lives and protecting citizens from COVID-19. (Office of the Premier)

Despite a state of emergency being declared in New Brunswick in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, health-care professionals who have travelled outside Canada must abide by self-isolation rules, the same as everyone else, says Premier Blaine Higgs.

He made the comments Thursday in response to questions from reporters at the daily COVID-19 update in Fredericton.

Any employees who returned from a trip to any international destination on or after March 13 have been instructed to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to work, or even being in the building.

"That is part of our protocol," said Higgs.

"We are asking people to return to the health-care profession if they have that opportunity, but we want to ensure they are healthy in doing so. So there are no special exceptions there in that regard."

There are now seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province and four probable cases. No one has been hospitalized.

Although no new cases were diagnosed Thursday, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said she knows there will be more.

Government officials have not said how many lab results are pending. A total of 410 tests have come back negative, according to the Public Health website.

There are seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick and four presumptive cases, the chief medical officer of health announced on Thursday. (Photo: CBC News)

Russell said she supports the government's decision to declare the state of emergency under the Emergency Measures Act, giving it broad powers to enforce business closures and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

The declaration states: "Every person who has been outside Canada will self-isolate within their home for 14 days after their return to Canada, and, if they experience symptoms of COVID-19 during that period, will remain self-isolated until they are free of symptoms."

It goes on to say: "This requirement does not apply to people exempted by the chief medical officer of health."

Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said late Thursday he was unaware of any exemptions at the Horizon Health Network or Vitalité Health Network.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said the COVID-19 pandemic poses a 'serious and unprecedented challenge.' (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Earlier in the day, Horizon's chief human resource officer Maura McKinnon said the self-isolation order did not apply to Horizon staff  "who must travel across the border into Maine as part of their day-to-day duties."

"All Horizon employees are considered essential and to ensure our commitment to providing safe and quality care to New Brunswick's citizens during this critical time, no staff members are being sent home," McKinnon said in an emailed statement.

The only exception would be those who have travelled internationally and are in isolation, she said.

Vitalité did not respond to a request for an interview or comment, instead directing CBC News to its website.

It states: "Employees and physicians who returned from a trip abroad on March 13, 2020, or later, regardless of the country visited, must self-isolate for 14 days following their return and not physically come to work during that period."

Prior to declaring the state of emergency, the government had introduced several measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as setting up community testing centres, cutting back on elective surgeries and authorizing family doctors to see patients 'virtually.' (Government of New Brunswick)

During the news conference, the chief medical officer of health was asked what requirements exist for employees who suspect they're sick to tell their employer or get tested, and what people can do if they suspect a colleague has COVID-19 but isn't getting tested.

Russell replied: "It's the employer that would have jurisdiction over that particular situation in terms of, they're in a workplace situation and their employer would be able to direct them to go home and self-isolate and call 811."

Under the declaration, owners and managers of all workplaces must take every reasonable step to ensure minimal interaction of people within two metres of each other.

Phone line to report problems

Higgs offered few specifics when pressed by reporters on how the declaration would be enforced.

It gives the government the power to charge or fine people who don't comply. "But that is not our intent, nor do we hope that we get there," he said.

Instead, he said he's counting on New Brunswickers realizing how serious the situation is, that it's for their own protection and that "this is not optional."

Later in the day, Higgs said on the CBC New Brunswick Political Panel podcast that the province is setting up a phone line people can call to report problems at workplaces.

"We will monitor those sites, we will visit those sites and we will ensure compliance," Higgs said.

"And if a facility is not maintaining health and hygiene and is in fact exposing their employees, we will shut them down. We don't have a choice."

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