New Brunswick

New Brunswick expands travel bubble into 2 Quebec border communities starting Saturday

New Brunswick will welcome visitors from two Quebec border regions who pre-register for day trips only, starting Saturday, Premier Blaine Higgs has announced.

Residents of Avignon Regional County and Témiscouata Regional County municipalities allowed to make day trips

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs addressed reporters during a news conference in Fredericton Thursday afternoon. (Submitted by Tyler Campbell/Government of New Brunswick)

New Brunswick will welcome visitors from two Quebec border regions who pre-register for day trips only, starting Saturday, Premier Blaine Higgs has announced.

Residents of Avignon Regional County Municipality, which borders Restigouche County and includes Listuguj First Nation and Pointe-à-la-Croix, and of Témiscouata Regional County Municipality, which borders Madawaska County will be able to cross into the province without having to self-isolate, Higgs said Thursday.

The travel bubble expansion applies only to those regions and not the rest of Quebec, Higgs told reporters during a news conference in Fredericton.

Opening up to any other areas or the rest of Canada won't be considered for at least two weeks, until he sees how the minor Quebec bubble is working, he said. The coronavirus has an estimated incubation period of up to 14 days.

"I'm a big believer or a proponent of doing things in a methodical calculated fashion and we can move forward and not have to move backwards at any point in time."

New Brunswick currently only allows residents from the other Atlantic provinces to visit without having to self-isolate for 14 days.

There has been pressure on both sides of the New Brunswick-Quebec border to allow freer movement to reunite family and friends separated by the J. C. Van Horne Bridge and provide access to essential goods and services. Members of the Listuguj community have also argued they are being denied their rights to unceded land.

Earlier this month, Higgs told CBC News he wanted the extend the travel bubble to part of Quebec by July 17. But on July 21, he said more time was needed to prepare.

'Solid safeguards'

"We have some really solid safeguards in place," Higgs said Thursday. "Not only are these only day passes but you have to register in advance so we know where you are. And there's a questionnaire that has to be filled out so we know what activities you've been participating in."

People entering from those regions will have to prove residency, attest that they are free of COVID-19 symptoms, and attest that they have not travelled outside their communities or the Atlantic provinces during the previous 14 days.

Témiscouata Regional County Municipality has a population of 19,574, and Avignon Regional County Municipality has 14,461 residents, according to figures from the provincial government. (Government of New Brunswick)

Border officials won't know whether a traveller was recently in other parts of Quebec with higher case counts of COVID-19, such as Montreal, acknowledged Higgs. It will be based on the "honour system" and the "personal integrity" of individuals.

"Throughout this whole process it's been based on that," he said. "So we're hopeful that people will use it for what it's worth. It gets the [New Brunswick-Quebec border] communities back together and that's what it's designed to do."

Once the visitors get across the border, there won't be anything to restrict them from travelling farther into New Brunswick either, Higgs said.

"We only have day passes, so we're anticipating they won't travel too far. But we're not going to be monitoring the regional borders. … So it is relying on people, on their own personal integrity."

Austin opposed

Higgs pushed ahead with the eased travel restrictions without the usual full support of the all party COVID-19 committee.

Immediately following the premier's news conference, People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin spoke out against the decision.

"I think we have a good thing going here in New Brunswick," he told reporters.

Quebec as a whole hasn't done quite as well.- Kris Austin, People's Alliance leader

Austin said he supported the bubble with the Atlantic provinces, which have all had reasonably low infection rates, and it's been "working well" since it began July 3.

"My reservation with opening up to Quebec is Quebec as a whole hasn't done quite as well. … And furthermore, I'm of the opinion that if you're going to open up the borders, you know, further to Quebec, why are we not looking at other parts of Canada?"

Regional service commission pleased

The Restigouche Regional Service Commission promptly issued a news release, expressing its appreciation to Health Minister Ted Flemming for advocating to the cabinet committee on its behalf and to Higgs for recognizing the importance of its "economic and social relationship" with neighbouring communities.

Commission chair Brad Mann said he's also grateful for the constant communication with Listuguj First Nation Chief Darcy Gray and ongoing contact with Pointe à la Croix Mayor Pascal Bujold.

"Rest assured that this is a first step, to safely allow day trips on each side of the NB-Quebec border," Mann said in a statement.

Quebec travellers who have not pre-registered will be turned away. This is necessary to "keep traffic flowing," according to a news release.

New Brunswick residents who travel into, but not beyond, the two Quebec regions, with no overnight stays, won't need to self-isolate when they return to the province. They must, however, pre-register.

10th day with no new cases

As of Thursday, there are two active cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, both in the Fredericton region. No new cases have been reported for 10 days.

The province has had 170 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in March. Two people have died.

A total of 52,153 COVID-19 tests have been conducted to date.

Quebec reported 122 new cases and one more death Thursday. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 59,131 confirmed cases and 5,673 people have died.

There are 208 people in hospital (an increase of 18), including 18 in intensive care (an increase of nine).

 The state of emergency will be extended and the mandatory order will be revised Friday to allow for the bubble with the Quebec border communities.

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