Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. government to decide on holiday visits in 'coming weeks': Fitzgerald

The province is reporting no new cases of COVID-19, and the chief medical officer of health says the government will be considering the impact of non-essential visits around Christmas.

No new cases of COVID-19 in the province for 2nd straight day

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says the provincial government is considering the risk and the impact of non-essential travel during the holidays. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health says the provincial government will announce in the "coming weeks" whether non-essential travel will be allowed to the province around the Christmas season.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the province continues to monitor the epidemiology of the virus across the country and is "carefully considering" the impact of non-essential visits to Newfoundland and Labrador around the holidays.

"I know that the pandemic has resulted in lengthy separations for some families and many have held out hope that they may be able to reunite over the holidays," said Fitzgerald on Wednesday during the provincial government's weekly live COVID-19 briefing. "Ultimately we will make a decision in the coming weeks as we assess the risks to the health of our population."

Fitzgerald said it's important to think about where people are travelling from and the risk of spread in the community if non-essential travel is permitted. 

"At this point it's probably just a bit too early to make any kind of prediction, but it is something that we're looking into," she said.

Watch the full Oct. 14 update:

The province reported no new cases of COVID-19 for the second day in a row on Wednesday, leaving the caseload at 283, with 271 recoveries and four deaths. There are eight active cases. 

In total, 47,366 people have been tested for the virus as of Wednesday's update, an increase of 301 since Tuesday. 

There have been four deaths since March.

Fitzgerald said public health is aware of "new information" regarding a recent case in the Central Health region of the province, but said she couldn't provide details because of privacy concerns. But she said the new information means public health will be looking for more close contacts of the case during their infectious period. Those identified will be advised to quarantine.

Resurgence of cases elsewhere

With parts of Canada and the world seeing a resurgence of new cases, Fitzgerald said, she understands the fears some people in Newfoundland and Labrador may have over the small increase in province's caseload in recent days.

But she reiterated the province's most recent cases have all been travel-related or have been found in people who are close contacts to those travel-related cases — not community spread.  

"The reality is that we will continue to see new cases. The goal here is containment of the virus to prevent spread," she said.

Fitzgerald also said the province is continuing to work with health officials in New Brunswick after outbreaks in Campbellton and Moncton. The province has more than 80 active cases as of Wednesday afternoon. Fitzgerald said those outbreaks are regional and there is no evidence to support Newfoundland and Labrador leaving the Atlantic bubble. 

"New Brunswick is looking for cases, and so because they're looking for cases around an outbreak investigation they're likely going to find them. And that's a good thing," she said.

"At the moment, from the information that we're getting and that's being shared on a regular basis, we wouldn't consider closing borders to New Brunswick at this time. As I've said if we were to see extensive community spread happening or starting then we would have to reconsider things."

Flu shot clinics begin rolling out next week. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

In the event of a spike in cases in Newfoundland and Labrador, a total shutdown of the province might not be necessary if a specific outbreak is contained, said Fitzgerald. 

She said the province's goal is to be more tailored in tackling potential future outbreaks.

"If we were starting to see cases that were as a result of a source where we couldn't identify our infection, where we couldn't identify the source, that will be a little more worrisome," Fitzgerald said.

"Our goal, obviously, is not to have to go back to any kind of a lockdown, but certainly we would have to look at the situation specifically. And if we were seeing outbreaks related to one specific type of business, or a specific industry, then we may have to consider making some changes specifically in those areas."

N.W.T. bubble

Meanwhile, some in the Northwest Territories are making a case for the region to join the Atlantic bubble. The last case of COVID-19 for the territory came in April.

Health Minister John Haggie says the provincial government is not open to the Northwest Territories joining the Atlantic bubble. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador )

Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have already rejected the idea, while Newfoundland and Labrador has said it's not open to discussing opening to the N.W.T.

"Speaking from personal experience, having been to the Northwest Territories on several occasions, you cannot get to there from here without overnighting usually in Calgary, or Edmonton and maybe even Toronto." 

Haggie said it's a decision left to the premiers and public health and wouldn't comment on the idea further, while Fitzgerald said it wouldn't be appropriate to speculate on an idea that hasn't had a serious discussion yet.

Flu shots

Fitzgerald said a high-dose influenza vaccine will be available to people who are 65 years and older and living in long-term-care and personal-care homes. 

Regional health authorities will start holding clinics next week, following public health guidelines, to administer the vaccines. Fitzgerald said information will be coming soon on how to book an appointment for a clinic. Residents of the province will be able to get a flu shot from their family physician or local pharmacist for free.

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About the Author

Mike Moore

Journalist

Mike Moore is a journalist who works with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

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