Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. taking its time with COVID restrictions despite Alberta changes, says Fitzgerald

While Alberta prepares to remove most of its COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks, Newfoundland and Labrador's Chief Medical Officer of Health says the province isn't quite ready to make the same kind of move.

Alberta will lift all COVID restrictions in coming weeks

Newfoundland and Labrador Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the province will continue to monitor COVID-19 across the country as situations continue to evolve. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health says the province isn't ready to make the kind of changes announced in Alberta, where almost all provincial COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in the coming weeks.

On Wednesday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced that as of mid-August, Albertans who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer have to self-isolate.

Many testing and contact tracing requirements will also be lifted, with contact tracers no longer notifying close contacts of a COVID-19 exposure and ending testing for minor cases.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said while she's not surprised some jurisdictions are making changes, the province isn't ready to make a similar move.

"We've certainly been talking about how we move from pandemic COVID to what we call 'endemic COVID,' so COVID that's with us all the time [and] that's living with us," Fitzgerald said Thursday.

"But, you know, we have our own case and contact management, which we're following for right now."

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced sweeping changes to the province's COVID-19 restrictions Wednesday. (Government of Alberta)

With many rotational workers often travelling between Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador, Fitzgerald said she believes the changes won't change the risk of allowing travellers from Alberta to enter the province.

"We're still testing anyone who is partially vaccinated before they come in here, and we're also testing anyone who is unvaccinated. So we feel that those safeguards are still in place," she said.

Fitzgerald said more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will need to be vaccinated before the province will loosen restrictions like Alberta is doing.

"We're looking for a little higher vaccination rate, but definitely those conversations have to happen and that transition has to happen," she said. "There is going to come a point when we have to deal with COVID as it comes.

"We will be looking at things like that as time goes on. It's evolving, and we will be looking at the science."

As a result of the changes in Alberta, that province's COVID-19 protocols will be similar to protocols for the flu or other communicable diseases.

The changes have prompted criticism across the province and the country from those who say people are being put at risk among rising COVID-19 case numbers in Alberta.

Low case numbers since reopening a good sign: Fitzgerald

With no new cases reported in the province since July 18, Fitzgerald said public health is still aiming for the middle of next month as a time to review the mandatory mask mandate but is still watching the rest of the country closely.

The drop in provincial case numbers is also a welcome surprise, said the chief medical officer of health, who says vaccination rates are higher than expected — and case numbers following reopening are lower than expected.

COVID-19 case numbers have stayed relatively low in Newfoundland and Labrador since reopening to travel, with the majority of cases tied to international ships entering Newfoundland and Labrador waters. (Submitted by Gabby Peyton)

"We didn't anticipate being able to get people vaccinated as quickly as they have, which is wonderful. I'm really happy to be able to say that," she said.

"I think we're all quite pleasantly surprised to date with the number of cases associated with travel."

Asked how the province can help calm people's anxieties moving through the next phase of the reopening plan, Fitzgerald reiterated the importance of making the choice to be vaccinated.

"If we can get 80 per cent of our [eligible] population doubly vaccinated, that's a really good protective measure," she said.

"Ideally we'd like to have even higher than that. We'd like to have 80 per cent of the total population."

According to a media release Thursday afternoon, Fitzgerald will speak to the media at 2 p.m. Friday "to discuss the move to step two of the reopening plan."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan

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