Higgs seeks to extend bubble to part of Quebec this week, postpone rest of Canada
New Brunswick premier says he has 'some apprehensions right now,' but will discuss matter with fellow premiers
Premier Blaine Higgs says he'd like to extend the Atlantic bubble to include the Gaspésie region of Quebec before the end of the week, but he thinks opening up to the rest of Canada should be pushed back for at least another week.
"I have some apprehensions right now in relation to opening up our border," he said.
All four Atlantic provinces have reported new cases of COVID-19 since the bubble began July 3; all of them related to travel outside the region, according to health officials.
Higgs believes his fellow Atlantic premiers also have some "reluctance right now" about opening up the region to the rest of the country, but he expects they will discuss the matter in the coming days.
"I would like to be all lined up here and that we can work together because we did this before … and I'd like to continue that," he said.
Higgs and the other Atlantic premiers had initially floated July 17 as a possible date to allow other non-essential Canadian travellers from outside the bubble to visit without requiring a written exemption and a 14-day isolation period. Since then, however, they and other officials have walked back from that date.
"There has been no firm decision made on an expansion to a 'Canadian bubble,'" Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said in a statement Tuesday.
"Same as the decision to open the 'Atlantic bubble,' any future broader movement to other Canadian jurisdictions or easing of travel restrictions for Newfoundland and Labrador will be determined and guided by our public health experts and chief medical officer of health," he said.
Newfoundland and Labrador's Health Minister John Haggie said Tuesday the 17th "was simply arithmetic," coming 14 days after the July 3 opening of the Atlantic bubble. The estimated incubation period of the virus is up to two weeks.
Two weeks is also the period of time public health officials have used to transition between the easing of restrictions.
Higgs said he believes area residents feel "sympathy" toward the rest of Canada and would like to find a way to make opening up work.
But there's also "certainly great concern about the [COVID-19] situation in the denser-populated cities like Montreal or Toronto and what we'd [be] exposed [to] there," he said.
That's why he's looking at connecting the northern part of New Brunswick with the Gaspésie region as a possible "next step" later this week.
"I think we can control that now and monitor that," by using the province's new online travel registration program, he said.
109 new cases in Quebec
Quebec reported 109 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to date to 56,730.
There are 295 people in hospital, including 21 in intensive care.
Five new deaths were recorded Tuesday, for a total of 5,633.
Quebec is registering about 100 new cases of COVID-19 daily. After having dropped almost steadily since mid-May, the five-day rolling average of new cases began to rise in late June, around the same time the bars and nightclubs in the Montreal area reopened.
The Gaspé Peninsula, which is located along the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River and extends into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, has a population of about 80,000, according to the 2016 census.
As for opening up to the other provinces, Higgs said he thinks waiting until Aug. 1 is "probably more likely." But he stressed he won't be making the decision in isolation.
"I'd like to have that opportunity to discuss with my colleagues and then decide collectively what's in our best interest," he said.