Some in Labrador pushing for tighter travel restrictions to keep COVID-19 out of region
Labrador Marine brings back restrictions for ferry travel between Labrador and Newfoundland
Municipal leaders in Labrador West are hoping to get self-isolation rules in place for people travelling from Newfoundland, in an effort to keep a coronavirus variant outbreak from reaching the region.
Ron Barron, mayor of Wabush, and Fabian Benoit, the mayor of Labrador City, have sent a letter to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, asking for provincial health officials to bring in 14-day quarantine rules for people travelling from the island, especially the Eastern Health region.
The letter comes in the wake of an outbreak of coronavirus variant B117 that has caused hundreds of new cases in just a matter of days, with thousands of people in isolation for testing and self-monitoring of symptoms.
"All we're trying to do here in Labrador West is protect our communities," says Barron.
We want to make sure that this doesn't come to Labrador.- Wabush Mayor Ron Barron
"We have no cases here, and we want to keep it that way."
As of Monday, there are zero active cases of COVID-19 in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region, which encompasses all of Labrador and the northern tip of Newfoundland.
Barron said a similar request was made in the earlier days of the pandemic last year, but they were "blatantly" told no, and that "we're all one province, we all get treated the same," Barron said.
"We'd like that to be the case all the time, but that's not the case for pretty well everything," he told CBC's Labrador Morning.
"So in light of what's going on in this pandemic, it's unfortunate that it's reared its ugly head here in the province, but all we are asking as community leaders is that we want to make sure that this doesn't come to Labrador."
If the mayors have their request approved, anyone coming back to Labrador from Newfoundland would have to isolate themselves for two weeks. Barron said it might seem severe, but they feel it's vital to contain any potential spread.
"It's unfortunate what's happening here. Would you want to be the one that's gonna travel possibly to the Eastern region … and come in here, unknowingly carrying COVID and bring it to your loved ones or your community? Your friends? Would you want to be the one that's known for that? I wouldn't want to," Barron said.
"All you're doing is safeguarding your friends and your family and our communities. I don't think that's too much to ask of anybody."
Benoit acknowledged that the Labrador region has been "lucky so far" as far as COVID-19 cases go, but added that municipal leaders need to take necessary steps to ensure it stays that way.
"There will be some short-term pain, but I think at the end of the day, if we can keep it out of here, everybody will be satisfied with the decisions we are going to have to make."
Benoit said there has been some pushback from community members, similar to when checkpoints and restrictions were brought in last year when the pandemic started. But, he said, "the majority of people are in support" of the proposal.
They had not heard back from Fitzgerald and health officials Monday morning — "I understand, I'm sure they're extremely busy," Benoit said — but he hopes to hear back soon.
"Hopefully we'll come up with a solution that everybody will be happy with, and hopefully this is a short-term thing," Benoit said. "But if it turns out to be longer, we need to make sure that we have the proper controls in place to protect our residents."
Ferry restrictions tightened
Meanwhile, Labrador Marine has brought back travel restrictions for its ferry service on the Strait of Belle Isle, effective Monday.
Residents of N.L. will be allowed to board only if they are travelling for the following reasons: essential work, medical appointments, picking up essential supplies, returning home or relocation.
The maximum number of passengers allowed on board will be 83, with most staying in their vehicles, while only 36 people will be permitted in the ferry's lounge. Public health measures for masks and physical distancing must be maintained.
Non-residents of the province will be allowed to board only if they have an exemption from Fitzgerald's office or a letter indicating essential service from their employer.
In other parts of Labrador, the planned rollout of the second dose of the Moderna vaccine is continuing.
Dr. Thomas Piggot, medical officer of health for Labrador-Grenfell Health, said the health authority is moving forward with its plans for inoculations for eligible Nunatsiavut residents
"This new variant is no reason to change our rollout of the vaccine," Piggot said. "In fact, seeing cases in the region is all the more reason to get vaccinated."
As for the campaign from the mayors to put isolation restrictions in place, Piggot said there are no plans for testing everyone who comes into Labrador from Newfoundland, although does advise anyone who develops symptoms to call and arrange testing.
With Alert Level 5 in place, Piggot said non-essential travel is seriously limited, which should help reduce any potential spread.
With files from Labrador Morning