4 new COVID-19 cases in N.L., as Fitzgerald reports arrival of more variants
Third wave, led by variants, is pummelling parts of Canada
Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting four new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as the province's chief medical officer of health warns of increased prevalence of coronavirus variants, while also indicating that the province is looking at tougher measures to contain them.
While many of the province's recent cases have been related to travel or close contacts of previous cases, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said most are also variants of the virus. So far this month, 83 per cent of samples tested positive for a variant of concern.
The cases include nine of the B117 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, five cases of B1351, which was first found in South Africa, and one case of P1, first found in Brazil. Fitzgerald said the province has also identified the first case of B1617, which was discovered in India.
"This is a reflection of what we're seeing across the country and the world right now, as variants are becoming more prominent in the epidemiology everywhere," she said.
"Variants of concern have changed the way that we have to approach this pandemic. I know that it may be difficult to understand why we need to tread so carefully when we have so few COVID cases ourselves, but we are one of the few jurisdictions in Canada that is not experiencing community spread at this time."
Fitzgerald reported one new recovery on Wednesday, leaving 27 active cases. One person is in hospital.
Three of Wednesday's cases are in the Western Health region: two people in their 40s and one in their 20s. The other case is in the Central Health region, a person in their 40s.
Fitzgerald said once a significant portion of the province's population is vaccinated, her team will look at easing restrictions. "We're just not quite there yet," she said.
Watch the full April 28 update:
As of Monday, 166,000 doses of vaccine had been administered, according to the Health Department. Fitzgerald said there will be an open call this week for all health-care workers who have direct patient contact, with an open call to the remainder of Phase 2 priority groups still expected o later than May 14.
Health Minister John Haggie said completed vaccinations represent about 88 per cent of vaccines delivered so far. One in three eligible residents — 156,372 — have now received at least one dose. The target to have every eligible resident receive their first dose of vaccine is now eight weeks away, said Haggie.
"There is no reason for us to believe that we will not make that target," he said. "And by September, everybody who is eligible, who wants to, could be fully vaccinated. That will be a game-changer, as long as between now and then we can hold the line."
Atlantic provinces tighten up
Other Atlantic provinces are beginning to roll out strict conditions for travellers entering those provinces in an attempt to gain control of new cases. Prince Edward Island, for example, is beginning to test anyone who enters the province three times over the course of their isolation period.
Fitzgerald said Newfoundland and Labrador is considering how to increase testing for those entering the province. She said, however, it takes planning, and she wants to make sure any plan will work logistically with a system that can be monitored effectively.
"We're just taking a bit of time to make sure we do it right," Fitzgerald said.
New Brunswick is implementing mandatory hotel quarantine for anyone entering that province. Fitzgerald said Newfoundland and Labrador is considering all options, but is trying to find a plan that works best for its situation.
As cases continue to rise throughout Alberta, particularly work sites which include rotational workers from Newfoundland and Labrador, Fitzgerald said options are being reviewed, including travel restrictions, as to what changes, if any, will be made for workers returning home.
Vaccines offer some protection
A steady stream of cases have filtered into Newfoundland and Labrador in recent weeks from travellers as a third wave rages across the country. But nowhere is that more severe, says Memorial University virologist Rod Russell, than in Ontario.
"We know it's the variants," Russell said. "We know the variants spread faster and move through populations quicker. That's an uncontrollable factor."
Lockdowns and stay-at-home measures, he added, could stem the spread, but Ontario leaders have displayed reluctance to adopt those policies across the board. Pandemic fatigue, too, has fuelled the fire.
"People are getting tired and sick of lockdowns and measures," Russell said. "I hate to say it, but the quickest way to deal with this virus is for everyone to stay home."
But Russell and his fellow scientists, scouring the data, bear good news: the vaccines in circulation at least provide some protection against the current variants, including the now-rampant B117.
With files from Malone Mullin