Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. holds the line on COVID-19, with 41st straight day with no positive test results

Officials updated the province's pandemic response and addressed the crowding of George Street bars this past weekend, as well as loosening restrictions surrounding long-term care homes.

George Street crowds spark changes, more visitors coming to long-term care homes

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says Newfoundland and Labrador has done well in holding back the advance of COVID-19. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador marked 41 days straight without a new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as officials updated the province's pandemic response and addressed the crowding of George Street bars this past weekend, as well as loosening restrictions surrounding long-term care homes.

As of Wednesday's update 19,475 people have been tested for the virus — 291 in the last 24 hours.

"As we await a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19, we are confident in our ability to safely restart social and economic activities in our province, and we are working hard to strike a balance between resuming these activities and ensuring the proper measures are in place," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald during the provincial government's live update.

There have been no known active cases in the province for 21 days straight, but Fitzgerald emphasized it is unrealistic to expect there to be no more new cases.

She reminded the public it is still important to adhere to public health measures to prevent the possible spread of the disease.

Watch the full July 8 update:

George Street sparks changes

After pictures emerged from the weekend of crowds on George Street — in particular a packed lineup at Rob Roy and a crowded dance floor at Konfusion — Health Minister John Haggie said there are now four active complaints with Service NL regarding the gatherings.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador government's guidelines for reopening businesses, it is only recommended that bars reduce capacity to 50 per cent. It is not an order enforced by law.

Changes coming later Wednesday will turn related guidelines around bars into orders that are then enforceable with punishments such as losing liquor licences, Haggie said. 

Haggie said the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation is investigating the active complaints and is keen on taking on the responsibility of policing under the Liquor Control Act. 

"It really is a shame because it jeopardizes all of us," Haggie said.

"And it really taints the efforts of a lot of bar owners, hoteliers and restaurateurs in St. John's and around the province who have worked very hard and in very imaginative ways."

Premier Dwight Ball said it's not unusual for some businesses and residents to not follow guidelines, adding the George Street crowds caused disappointment across the province. 

"We all know that you've worked hard, and reports like this go against everything we have, and will continue to put in place, to protect our health and well-being," he said.

"One wrong move, like some of the ones that we saw over the weekend, some of the patrons of George Street, can put us back in our plan of moving forward."  

A statement from the bar's managers said there is a lot of work to be done to establish a new normal. 

"In these early days of trying to get things right, issues and opportunities for improvement are presenting themselves left and right," part of the statement read.

Pictures from Saturday night show large crowds both inside and outside Konfusion and Rob Roy on George Street. (Twitter)

'Considerable fear' of opening borders

Less than a week ago, on July 3, the Atlantic bubble opened, allowing free movement between the four Atlantic provinces.

Since then Prince Edward Island has seen five new cases, and Nova Scotia one. Officials say those cases are not connected with the opening of borders between Atlantic Canadian provinces, as the outbreak was traced back to one man who had travelled to the Maritimes from the United States.

In the past, Ball has said the earliest Newfoundland and Labrador would consider opening its borders to the rest of Canada would be July 17.

When asked Wednesday if that was still the plan, Ball said there have been no discussions, noting the province will continue to monitor the situation.

"We know that around the province right now there is considerable fear, I would say, in opening up those borders," Ball said. 

"But before a decision would be made on the expansion of any travel, we would be working with public health based on the epidemiology of where that would be.… There is no date set for when that would be."

Health Minister John Haggie speaks at the COVID-19 briefing at Confederation Building on Wednesday. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

To date, Ball said, more than 9,000 people have entered Newfoundland and Labrador through travel exemption orders. He said about 15 per cent have been denied. 

Ball said the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period is still in place for those travelling to the province from outside the Atlantic region.

More long-term-care visitors

As of July 13, Haggie said visitor restrictions will be eased for long-term-care homes throughout the province. 

Each resident can now expand their visitors to up to six people for their bubble, up from the current limit of one. 

On Tuesday restrictions eased for privately owned personal-care homes. Residents there are now free to leave those facilities, with one of their visitors, for the day to get their hair cut, shop or eat at a restaurant.

They are required to follow public health guidelines such as physical distancing, wearing a mask when necessary and handwashing.

Haggie said July 13 was set to allow for families to work through the details of the changes.

"I think that's the simple reason to do that, to give everyone notice to prepare," he said.

Haggie said visitation has been expanded to acute care as well, as of Monday. 

On Wednesday Premier Dwight Ball said there has been no decision made on when the province will open its borders to the rest of Canada. (Chris Murphy/The Weather Network)

Alert Level 1?

It has also been almost two weeks since the province moved to Alert Level 2, bringing with it the reopening of a larger portion of the economy and social activities. 

There has been no detailed timeline for when, or if, the province will make the move to Alert Level 1. 

When asked Wednesday when the public can expect to see that change, Fitzgerald said no decision has been made yet, noting some aspects of reopening haven't gone as smoothly as government would have liked.

"We want to give it time to make sure that we're good to move to another level. But, a lot has opened, there's not a lot more to open," she said.

"I think with Alert Level 1 we'll be looking at more how we're living life going forward until we get a vaccine. I want people to understand that Level 1 is not going to be sort of normal as we knew it prior to COVID." 

As of Wednesday, the total number of cases in the province remains at 261. Three people have died since the virus first found its way to Newfoundland and Labrador. 

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