Nfld. & Labrador

Still no confirmed COVID-19 cases in N.L.

Provincial government staff are being told not to travel out of the province for work as the chief medical officer of health says everyone should think carefully about travel.

Local companies are taking precautionary measures to lower potential risks

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's acting chief medical officer of health, says the biggest risk of exposure to COVID-19 is through travel. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Latest

  • Anyone outside N.L. in last 14 days asked to stay away from hospitals, long-term care homes
  • All offshore workers being screened before boarding helicopters
  • People advised to practice proper hand washing, stay home if feeling sick

Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister says there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province as of Thursday afternoon.

John Haggie said 52 test samples done in the province were negative as of noon on Thursday. 

They were sent to the microbiology lab in Winnipeg, and 33 of those were confirmed to be negative, while confirmations of the other 19 samples are pending. 

Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, said COVID-19 needs to be considered in event planning, although she's not advising all large events be cancelled. 

Fitzgerald recommends suspending work-related travel for government employees. On Wednesday, eight government employees went into self-isolation after returning from a conference that was attended by someone who later was confirmed to have the illness.

Premier Dwight Ball is in Ottawa, where he was supposed to attend a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada's other premiers and Indigenous leaders to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss the recent severe drop in oil prices.

The meeting was called off as Trudeau and his wife Sophie have gone into self-isolation awaiting Sophie's COVID-19 test results.

"You need to carefully consider what's happening in the world, what your own health is," Fitzgerald said Thursday when asked about personal travel. "Right now travel is the biggest risk or exposure to a known case," plus one could be quarantined in a foreign country. 

She said elderly and those with underlying health issues are still at highest risk for COVID-19, but everyone should be cautious and be sure to wash their hands frequently. 

Memorial University has suspended all outbound travel, both international and within Canada, for employees until further notice. Any university-related travel to Labrador must be reviewed by the relevant dean or director.

The university said students and staff currently abroad, or with plans to travel abroad, should contact a unit head.

The College of the North Atlantic also suspended all international travel for staff as of March 4. 

Safety's sake

Johnson Insurance, a St. John's-based company, told local employees to stay home until further notice on Thursday morning.

Just before 2 p.m., company president Ken Bennett said the building was temporarily closed "to sanitize the space."

Johnson Insurance told its employees to stay home until further notice on Thursday. (John Gushue/CBC)

"We have learned that one of our non-customer-facing employees at the Fort William Building had come into contact with someone exhibiting flu-like symptoms, off premises," said Bennett, adding it is not a confirmed case of coronavirus and the employee is not showing symptoms.

With the risk of potential exposure unclear, Bennett said the company decided to take precautionary measures as employees are "fully equipped to work remotely." 

Johnson is one of several employers in the city asking staff work from home out of concern over the coronavirus outbreak.

Local tech companies Verafin and ClearRisk also asked their employees to work from home on Thursday.

"With a small team, in a fairly small office, if one person came in with it touching surfaces, everybody is going to get it," said ClearRisk's CEO Craig Rowe. 

"We don't want that to happen because we don't want our staff and their families to get it, but we also don't want to disrupt our service to our customers." 

Empty shelves at a Walmart in St. John's from an influx of customers buying hand sanitizer. (Lee Pitts/CBC)

The St. John's Edge won't play tonight, as the National Basketball League of Canada is suspending all games until further notice. The move follows shutdowns from the National Basketball League and National Hockey League in the last 24 hours.

The Newfoundland Growlers season is also up in the air. The ECHL issued a statement shortly after 6 p.m. NST on Thursday saying that it will be suspending the rest of its season for precautionary measures.

"We completely support the ECHL's decision to suspend our season until further notice. The health and safety of our fans, staff and players has always been, and always will be, our top priority," the team said in a statement Thursday evening.

The club said it will be providing updates for future games as more information becomes available.

Offshore industries taking precautions

An offshore oil rig in Norway registered the first known case of the coronavirus offshore this week.

Off the coast of Newfoundland, oil companies are hoping they won't be the next ones.

According to a spokesperson from Husky Energy, all passengers are being screened by nurses at the Cougar Helicopter terminal before leaving the island for each offshore oil rigs — and it includes mandatory temperature checks. 

Travel to all offshore oil platforms now comes with a screening for COVID-19. (Paul Daly/Canadian Press)

Marine Atlantic, the interprovincial ferry service, said it updated its pandemic plan and is using a more rigorous cleaning method to prevent COVID-19 reaching Newfoundland and Labrador through its port.

Spokesperson Darrell Mercer said its usual tour bus operators who travel between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are reporting cancellations due to coronavirus concerns.

The St. John's Port Authority implemented temporary measures for flagged foreign ships. Crew members and passengers symptomatic of COVID-19 are to advise Transport Canada following the 96-hour and 24-hour pre-arrival inspection reports. Those cases will then be turned over to the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

If a crew member or passenger is determined to be "at risk" and the vessel is granted permission to enter St. John's, the SJPA will enact its own emergency response plan and protocols, according to a statement on its website. 

Those procedures do not apply to Canadian registered vessels, though those vessels should also report any passengers or crew who are have symptoms of COVID-19.

Supply and demand

Shortages of products like masks and hand sanitizers have hit the province, with some — including health food store the Natural Vibe — resorting to making their own hand sanitizer.

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District managed to lock down a supplier for hand sanitizer this week, as its stock began to run low.

The district said it still has abundant supplies of soap, which is just as effective as any hand sanitizer.

Costco in St. John's has blank shelves where hand sanitizer is being snatched up by customers taking precautions over COVID-19. (Jonny Hodder/CBC)

COVID-19 could also make it hard for people to get their phones fixed.

Justin Penney, who works at the iDoctor in Paradise, said he is expecting an increase in prices once the Chinese supply chain of phone and tablet parts is up and running again.

"Right now we're seeing a real problem with the supply of parts," Penny said, as the manufacturing sector was disrupted by COVID-19 in China.

He's seen prices for parts triple due to changes in supply.

"I haven't seen an increase yet but we will adjust our prices accordingly," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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