Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. reports 46 new COVID-19 cases, shortens booster timeline to 22 weeks

In an unplanned briefing Friday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said there are presumptive cases of Omicron in both the Eastern Health and Central Health regions.

English school district advises students to be prepared in case classes go online in new year

There are 46 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador Friday, according to Dr. Janice Fitzgerald. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador is shortening its COVID-19 vaccination booster timeline forward to try to slow the spread of coronavirus, as the province reported 46 new cases Friday, including new instances of the Omicron variant.

In an unplanned briefing Friday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said some of the new cases are of the Omicron variant but declined to provide a specific number, saying the variant needs to be confirmed by Canada's national laboratory. There are presumptive cases of Omicron in both the Eastern Health and Central Health regions, she added.

But as cases rise and schools in the Western Health region continue to be disrupted by COVID-19, Fitzgerald said current evidence does not suggest unaffected schools need to be closed. She said she hopes schools can complete the winter term, but an extended holiday break isn't out of the picture.

"The timing just sucks, there's no other way to say it. But we are in a good place, and with the measures I think we can be in a good place again," she said.

The last day of classes before the break is currently Wednesday. In a letter issued Friday, the district said students across all grades should take home resources and supplies that would be needed for virtual classes after the holiday break.

Most of the new cases, 31, are in the Western Health region, where cases have spiked in recent days. Twenty are connected to contacts of previous cases, while 11 are under investigation.

There are 11 cases in the Eastern Health region. Eight are related to travel, two are contacts of previous cases and one is under investigation.

There are four cases in the Central Health region, all under investigation.

With four new recoveries, there are 76 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. No one is currently in hospital due to the virus, with the province completing 357,188 COVID-19 tests to date, including 1,107 in the past day.

Premier Andrew Furey announced at the briefing that people over 18 will be eligible for a booster 22 weeks after their second vaccination, a reduction of about four weeks from the previous six-month wait.

Watch the full briefing here:

Furey called the 22-week mark "the sweet spot" in getting the most amount of booster shots to people. Under the changes, almost 265,000 people will now be eligible for booster shots at the end of the month, according to the Premier.

Health Minister John Haggie said the province expects to ramp up appointment booking in the coming days.

New restrictions

Fitzgerald also announced new restrictions in place as part of the increase in cases.

Effective immediately, anyone who is fully vaccinated and deemed a close contact of a positive case will need to isolate for seven days. Fitzgerald acknowledged the change is extreme, but called it a necessary measure to limit spread of the virus.

Travel around the province for sporting events, recreation and arts events is prohibited, but teams can continue to play within their own region.

Weddings, funerals, burials and religious events will be limited to 50 per cent capacity in areas where N.L.'s vaccination passport is accepted, and 25 per cent capacity in places without the need for the pass.

Fitness spaces, cinemas, arenas and performance spaces are reduced to 50 per cent capacity. Restaurants can operate at 75 per cent capacity with physical distancing.

"This is not a lockdown," Furey said. "Right now, with the new variant, we have to pivot again."

Premier Andrew Furey said the change of restrictions is not a lockdown, and believes Newfoundland and Labrador's handling of the pandemic puts it in a good position to handle the rising case count. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

There are no changes to in-home gatherings with the upcoming holiday season, but Fitzgerald encouraged people to keep contacts low and work from home where possible.

"We will see more cases," Fitzgerald said. "[But] we know what we have to do to keep this under control."

Mandatory vaccination policy starts Friday

The provincial government also shared details on its own mandatory vaccination policy, which came into effect Friday. All core government employees, including health-care professionals and teachers, must be fully vaccinated to work. Those not following the policy will be placed on leave without pay.

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said 99.4 per cent of workers reported a full vaccination status. Thirty-two people are non-compliant with the policy, she said.

She also said 98 per cent of teachers in the province are fully vaccinated, along with 97 per cent of health-care workers.

Following the briefing, Eastern Health shared a potential COVID-19 exposure notice asking anyone who visited Piatto Pizzeria and Enoteca Midtown at 60 Elizabeth Ave. in St. John's on Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. to get tested for COVID-19.

The Newfoundland Rogues have also postponed two weekend basketball games at Mary Brown's Centre, as international travel rules prevent the San Francisco City Cats from entering the country.

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