New Brunswick

Chief medical officer says it's 'damaging' for businesses to screen people from Zone 5

People in the province’s COVID-19 hotspot have been denied access to goods and services and subjected to disparaging remarks, says the Restigouche Mayors Forum.

Campbellton region residents face discrimination from rest of province, mayors say

Dr. Jennifer Russell warned against discrimination based on presumed health status, which she said is grounded in fear and misunderstanding. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

People in the province's COVID-19 hotspot have been denied access to goods and services and subjected to disparaging remarks.

Brad Mann, chair of the local service districts in the Campbellton area, said since the outbreak in Zone 5, businesses have been posting signs barring residents of that area, some businesses refused to deliver to the zone, and some people's medical appointments were cancelled.

"Totally unfair," Mann said Wednesday.

"The residents are totally disgusted with the whole operation. They're upset and rightfully so. There's no other word to put it, when you get people saying Zone 5, you're not allowed anywheres. That's discrimination. Sorry."

The province has 29 cases of COVID-19, 28 of which are in Zone 5, which includes Campbellton and surrounding areas. Twenty one of those cases are linked to a long-term care home where one resident has died of the respiratory illness.

An outbreak at the Manoir de la Vallée in Atholville accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases in Zone 5. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

The Restigouche Mayors Forum, representing the mayors of municipalities and local service districts in the northern New Brunswick region, "denounces and deplores" the government's inaction to address this, said a statement released Wednesday.

"We do not deserve insensitive comments, nor being refused services," the statement said.

"We did not ask for this outbreak and we are all doing our best to follow the directives to return to a new normal as quickly as possible.

Zone 5 has been in the orange phase of recovery, which means people are more limited in who they can have close contact with and what kind of businesses can open. The rest of the province has been in the yellow phase, allowing hairdressers, restaurants and markets to open and people can have contact with family and friends.

Mann said this is also unfair.

"I can tell you that when Fredericton had 40 or 50 cases, we were still all on the same boat," he said. "They never gave us a break when we didn't have any cases up here for three weeks."

'It has to stop'  

Some businesses, including some in Fredericton and Saint John, are adding "Have you travelled to Campbellton in the last two weeks?" to the questions they ask of patrons before allowing them in. 

At a news conference Wednesday, chief medical officer of health said this approach is not under the advice of Public Health.

"In fact, I think it's damaging in terms of the people coming from those regions that feel ostracised and stigmatized," Dr. Jennifer Russell said.

"It isn't necessary for people to put up signs and ask questions about if you've travelled to and from an area that has an outbreak."

The Campbellton region, Zone 5, remains in the orange phase of the COVID-19 recovery plan, but the rest of the province moved into another level of the yellow phase of recovery. (Government of New Brunswick)

She said she's seeing a new form of discrimination since the Campbellton outbreak began.

"We are also seeing discrimination based on presumed health status and this is grounded in fear and misunderstanding, like all such judgmental responses," she said. "It is happening in our province today and it has to stop."

Russell said on the health-care side, there are extra personal protective equipment requirements when a patient is transferred from a hospital in an outbreak area to another hospital.

"But those were at the medical level in a medical setting in a in a clinical setting in a hospital," she said.

She said she will be addressing concerns about health-care access and discrimination for people in Zone 5 on Thursday.

"It is concerning, and definitely we'll be talking about what we can do to mitigate that."

At the legislature in Fredericton, Liberal MLA Guy Arseneault challenged Premier Blaine Higgs on not pushing back against the discrimination being felt by the people of the Campbellton region.

"It was made clear that residents of Zone 5 were allowed to travel outside the area for things like work, essential services and other reasons as well. However, we are hearing many stories of businesses in other health-care zones who are asking for identification and refusing the citizens of zone five from entering their premises," said the Campbellton-Dalhousie MLA.

"Does the premier find this type of discrimination acceptable here in New Brunswick? Are we not all in this together?"

Higgs said the province has encouraged people to stay in their own zones.

"We're not going to enforce those borders within our province," he said. "But I'm encouraging people to really exercise caution, wear their masks, [keep a] safe distance and follow all the rules."

Liberal MLA Guy Arseneault asked the premier if he thinks this kind of 'discrimination' is acceptable. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

While Russell was unequivocal, Higgs said he can understand why a business would ask about travel to Campbellton before allowing patrons in.

"They want to know because is there a chance that their business is going to close down?" he said. 

"I certainly don't like discrimination of any kind anywhere in our province or beyond. 

"But we're all conscious of the fact that we have to abide by certain rules, certain containment philosophies, in order to minimize the risk to the many and that's what's happening here."

Arsenault said staying in the orange phase, prolonged isolation and the discrimination is having a negative impact on the mental health of residents there.

Higgs said there must be a period of time where the zone has no new cases before the restrictions can be eased.

"That's not going to be the situation today," he said. "We still have issues that are growing."

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