Vaccines rolling out, but health restrictions could remain in place 'through to 2022,' says Haggie
1 new COVID-19 case reported Monday
A man under 40 is Newfoundland and Labrador's first new case of COVID-19 for 2021, health officials said at a regular government briefing Monday, that also focused on the vaccine rollout in the province.
The case is travel-related, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.
The number of active cases is ten, as of Monday's briefing, which touched on the milestones of the past year while stressing optimism for 2021.
"A year from now I hope we can look back and remember that in spite of the adversity and pressure … we came forward braver," Fitzgerald said.
Health Minister John Haggie confirmed guaranteed delivery dates for both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in coming weeks. Hundreds of doses have been administered since a registered nurse received the first shot 19 days ago.
"This has been a long run and we are in a good place to start 2021," he said.
But, Haggie cautioned that public health guidelines now in place might not change this year.
"We're not sure — nobody is — what effect this vaccine will have on transmission of the virus," he said.
Until there's a significant amount of immunity in the population, Haggie said, masks and distancing protocols "will have to stay with us, possibly right through to 2022, no matter how effective the vaccine is."
Travel restrictions will also remain in place until immunization levels, as well as uptake in the general population, are clearer, Haggie said.
Premier Andrew Furey said a hiatus from the Atlantic Bubble remains in place.
"We're still evaluating the epidemiology in adjacent jurisdictions, and we'll make a decision over the next coming days," Furey said.
1,785 people inoculated so far
Haggie told The St. John's Morning Show earlier on Monday that the province has used all but 165 of its first set of doses.
"Those were reserved for high-risk individuals who were not in work at the time the vaccine run went through and are in today. So those will be done my understanding is through Eastern Health over the course of today."
There have been 1,785 people vaccinated in the province so far, Haggie said.
The health minister said more shipments of the vaccine are scheduled to arrive, but health officials will follow Public Health Agency of Canada guidelines and reserve the next shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to serve as a second dose for those who have already received a first injection.
Around 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are now in a depot in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, he added. Those are reserved for remote Indigenous communities in Labrador. Nunatsiavut plans to begin its immunization program Jan. 11, while the Innu Nation is still in the process of determining a rollout date, Haggie said.
Future deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, which requires special freezers, could be stored outside St. John's. The province currently has five of those freezers, with two more coming this week and five more on order.
"The next set of vaccine that's coming into the island depends on where the ultra-low freezers are up and running at the depots," Haggie said.
One set of vaccines will be stored at the Central Health vaccine depot in Gander, with the goal of bringing more freezers to locations across the province.
"There is another fridge coming in as I understand it, which will go [to Western Health] … and we've got a couple more ultra-low freezers coming in," Haggie said. "So we'll end up with another one in St. John's and one in Labrador West."
Fitzgerald said there's no change in in expectations on when the general public can access the vaccine, saying distribution is unlikely before July.
Furey, Haggie and Fitzgerald have not received the vaccine, with Fitzgerald noting that none of them are on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19.
Health officials watching new COVID-19 variant
Haggie said health officials are closely watching a variant of COVID-19, discovered in the United Kingdom in December, with the first positive case in Canada found in Ontario later that month.
"It does seem … to be more transmissible," Haggie said. "It seems to stick better inside people's noses and throats. Whether or not it produces a more severe illness or a different kind of illness doesn't seem to be clear at the moment, but obviously that will come clear with time."
Watch the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador briefing stream for Jan. 4:
Haggie said the province is concerned about whether the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are any less effective against the variant, but preliminary tests around the world, including from both manufacturers, suggest both vaccines are equally effective against the variant as the original COVID-19 strain.
Haggie also said health officials will look to see the impact of holiday gatherings on the number of COVID-19 cases, as the province has seen cases go up after holidays.
"Over the next few days and into the middle of January, we'll get our grade on how we did over Christmas and New Year."
MHAs travelling? 'Not to my knowledge': Furey
Fitzgerald reiterated that despite vaccines on the horizon, the province is still recommending against non-essential travel outside Newfoundland and Labrador.
The reminder comes amid confirmations from multiple Canadian politicians who have travelled internationally in recent weeks, despite public health leaders stressing to avoid non-essential travel.
When pressed during Monday's briefing about whether any MHA travelled internationally, Furey said "not to my knowledge."
"The instruction was given to the cabinet and to the Liberal caucus not to," he said.
Late Monday afternoon, spokespeople for the PC and NDP confirmed to CBC that none of their MHAs travelled internationally since the last sitting of the House of Assembly, which was mid-December.
- A previous photo caption incorrectly credited the government of Newfoundland and Labrador for a picture of vaccines arriving. The correct credit is PAL Airlines.Jan 04, 2021 4:03 PM NT
With files from Malone Mullin and The St. John's Morning Show