No new cases of COVID-19 in N.L., 3rd day in a row

With two households now able to come together, Health Minister John Haggie says there are reasons for concern.

Move to Alert Level 4 on May 11 still a go, Haggie says

Health Minister John Haggie used Skype on Monday to answer reporters' questions about management of the COVID-19 crisis. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

There are no new cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday, the seventh day in the past eight that the province's caseload has remained steady.

The province's total caseload remains at 259, and as of Monday's daily provincial update, 233 people have recovered from the virus. There have been 8,935 people tested — 102 in the last 24 hours.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Monday that three straight days with no new cases is reassuring.

"Once we begin lifting some of the public health measures in the coming days the discipline we have fine-tuned over the last number of weeks will be more important than ever to help keep COVID-19 at bay in our province."

Watch the full May 4 update:

The province has tentatively set May 11 as the day it will move to Level 4 of its five-stage plan to ease its public health restrictions. On Thursday the provincial allowed two households to merge.

Premier Dwight Ball said safety is still the priority. 

"If we do not practise the safety measures and the guidelines that we have put in place, there is a real possibility of either going back or staying at Alert Level 5," he said.   

Health Minister John Haggie said it's important not to rush the process. He said Newfoundland and Labrador has flattened the curve of the first wave of the virus, but returning back to any normalcy will be slow. 

The planned move to Alert Level 4 on May 11 is a gradual opening of the door, said Haggie.

"I would really encourage everyone, as much as they're tempted, not to rush through that door and push it wide open in the first few weeks," he said. 

"It is not far, and it will not take much, for this virus to take hold and for clusters to form again."

Still concerned

After the first weekend of "double bubbles" in Newfoundland and Labrador — allowing two households to come together amid the COVID-19 pandemic — Haggie says there are signs for concern.

"I've been hearing lots on social media, and quite honestly, it's a little bit worrying," Haggie told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"[There has been] lots of other correspondence and photographs of suggestions that people have just walked through an open door than just nudged it open gently."

Haggie said that while the number of active cases has decreased, it's not time for larger gatherings to resume.

Paula Corcoran, executive director of the Consumers' Health Awareness Network of Newfoundland and Labrador, joined Premier Dwight Ball at Monday's COVID-19 briefing. (Premier Dwight Ball/Twitter)

"Our big worry is a repeat of, say, a wake or visitation incident that triggered all our numbers in the first place," Haggie said.

"If the numbers allow, then we can relax that gently over the course of the next few levels. Quite frankly, though … mass gatherings are going to have to wait."

Travel ban

Effective today, all outside visitors who aren't exempted for work, or as a primary resident, will not be allowed into the province. That includes those originally from the province who return to their summer homes for a vacation. 

Fitzgerald said they will be allowed in only under extenuating circumstances.

For many coming to Newfoundland and Labrador it would be through another province, said Ball, and there have been about 60,000 cases across Canada.

"It just really speaks and highlights the fact that this virus is still in the country, it's still in other provinces, and what we are doing with the work of the chief medical officer is to make sure and do whatever we can to prevent it from getting inside Newfoundland and Labrador," Ball said.

There is no timeline for when travel restrictions will be lifted. Fitzgerald said Newfoundland and Labrador will base its decision on what is occurring across the province as well as the rest of Canada. 

"If we're still seeing large outbreaks elsewhere in the country then obviously we're going to be more cautious about lifting any such ban," said Fitzgerald. "But it will very much depend on what we see going forward."

Health restrictions relaxing 

While Haggie says the move to Level 4 is still a go for the time being, an increase in the number of cases could mean a halt in the loosening of restrictions.

"What was clear from the plan, from [Chief Medical Officer of Health] Dr. [Janice] Fitzgerald and may be being slightly forgotten or sidelined by people, is  that if we go backwards in terms of cases, and we start to see people being admitted to hospital again, everything goes back to alert level five," he said.

"There will be restrictions as severe as we had before. And maybe we'll learn from those and have to be even stricter. And it's a shame really, 'cause we have done so well so far."

The challenge in the sense is when the two bubbles unite, it's what the bubbles do the rest of the time.- John Haggie

Although the double bubble has come into effect in the province, Haggie said it's important that rules for physical distancing still be observed as people will still come into contact with other people in one way or another.

"When you open up your bubble to another, the assumption that we and [Dr. Fitzgerald] have made is that this would be regular contact between two households and probably prolonged," he said. "The challenge in the sense is when the two bubbles unite, it's what the bubbles do the rest of the time."

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says the province will monitor its own situation as well as the rest of Canada before lifting any travel restrictions. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Much like the the potential for mass gatherings over the Easter weekend to cause a flareup in cases, Haggie said the impact of the past weekend probably won't be known until the middle of May, and health officials are uncertain about what the next few weeks could look like.

"We honestly don't know," he said. "The facts of the case are that the virus is with us, and the challenge we have is that the virus will reproduce and grow and infect more people as people start to move about.… We have to be forever vigilant."

Paula Corcoran, executive director of the Consumers' Health Awareness Network of Newfoundland and Labrador, joined the daily briefing Monday to discuss the importance of mental health awareness as the pandemic continues. The group serves people who have experienced mental health issues or are users of other mental health services.

Corcoran said her group has seen a surge in calls from the general public, not just from those who have mental health conditions.

"We have all had very different experiences to this current crisis. And if I were to leave you with something I really want to acknowledge that right now we are all having a very, very normal reaction to a very abnormal event," she said.

The group's support services can be contacted at 1-855-753-2560. The province's 24-hour crisis line can be reached at 1-888-737-4668.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Alex Kenneddy and The St. John's Morning Show