P.E.I. to impose new restrictions after omicron variant presence confirmed

P.E.I. is implementing a suite of new COVID-19 restrictions after the province confirmed its first case of the highly contagious omicron variant.

Omicron case connected with St. Francis Xavier University outbreak

Dr. Heather Morrison has held briefings every Tuesday in December. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

P.E.I. is implementing a suite of new COVID-19 restrictions after the province confirmed its first case of the highly contagious omicron variant.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said in a briefing Tuesday the case has been associated with an outbreak at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. 

Morrison said she expects more omicron cases to be confirmed in the upcoming days.

Schools will remain open for the next three days prior to the Christmas break, but Morrison said the province will be making a recommendation in early January on whether schools will reopen as planned.

New gathering limits, masking measures

Starting Friday, informal gatherings will be limited to 20 people, including those in the same household.

No travel to or from P.E.I. will be allowed for people looking to participate in organized recreational events, including sports, arts and culture-related gatherings, with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Maritime Junior Hockey League being exempt. No tournaments of any sort will be permitted in the province.

Masks will be allowed to be removed at indoor public places when actively eating or drinking, which means Islanders won't be able to take them off when seated at concerts or faith-based gatherings.

Standing receptions where food or drink is served will no longer be permitted, and people must be seated when consuming food or drinks at an eating establishment. Only 20 people can be seated at the same table.

Businesses are asked to take every reasonable step to ensure six feet between patrons of different households.

Dancing and other activities involving close contact will be allowed in cohorts of 50 provided masks are worn at all times.

The set of measures will come into effect at 8 a.m. December 17 and remain in place until early January.

"Adjusting to omicron will take work and effort and it really couldn't happen, doesn't seem, at a worse time as we prepare to gather for the holidays. But I know we'll adjust and we'll get through this," Morrison said.

More travel testing requirements

Morrison also announced new measures at long-term care facilities, and more stringent requirements for travellers entering the province.

Long-term care facility residents won't be able to go out on community visits until they are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot.

People who recently travelled within Canada can't visit long-term care, community care or acute care facilities until they have been tested negative twice. Staff only need to have one negative test prior to reporting for work, but ideally they should also wait until the day four test.

International travellers including staff will be unable to enter these facilities until they present three negative tests, one at entry and the others on days four and eight.

People will now be asked to wait for their point-of-entry test results, which Morrison said usually takes around two hours, before joining their family or going to public places. 

The province recommends travellers with a P.E.I. Pass take a day four test and not attend large gatherings, church or visit long-term care and community care facilities or people who are immunocompromised for the first four days after their arrival.

"Now it's the time to add every layer of protection we can to reduce our individual and collective risk," Morrison said.

3 new cases

Three new cases were also announced Tuesday, one involving a child under 12.

Two of the cases are related to travel and one was a close contact of a previous case. The other two individuals are in their 30s and 60s, respectively. Contact tracing has been completed, and all three people are now self-isolating.

The province has 36 active cases. There's been a total of 423 cases on the Island since the pandemic began.

Five public exposure notifications were issued:

Wednesday, Dec. 8

  • Maid Marion's Diner (7 Ellis Road, Charlottetown) between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
  • Best Buy (191 Buchanan Drive, Charlottetown) between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m.
  • Spartan Fitness (306 University Avenue, Charlottetown) between 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 10

  • Linda's Coffee (32 Queen Street, Charlottetown) between 10 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.
  • Lawton's Sherwood Centre (100-161 St. Peter's Road, Charlottetown) between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

A flight notification was also issued:

  • Air Canada flight 8332 from Toronto to Charlottetown on Friday, Dec. 10.

Morrison said that since mid-November, the province has confirmed 94 cases, 22 per cent of all cases since the pandemic began.

Sixteen per cent of these cases travelled within Canada, 21 per cent were international travellers, 57 per cent were contacts of previously reported cases and five per cent weren't linked to either travel or other cases.

Seventeen per cent were under the age of 12, and 16 were over 60. 

The province has reported an average of two cases a day for the last 24 days.

'Under significant strain'

"Our public health and testing capacity are under significant strain. We are still able to do contact tracing, however we are considering alternatives to identify close and casual contacts if the current level of transmission continues," Morrison said. 

"Our testing clinic and provincial laboratory staff have been working tirelessly to meet the demand for testing."

Morrison said the province is considering relying on key people such as coaches to disseminate information instead of reaching out to everyone involved directly when contacts to a case are identified.

She said though delta is still dominant, omicron is picking up steam.

It is not yet known whether the variant leads to more severe illness. Morrison urged Islanders to get fully vaccinated and the booster shot if they're eligible while the situation continues to evolve.

"Omicron is going to be a challenge for all jurisdictions, including P.E.I.," she said. "We will not be able to avoid spread of this variant in this province, and we can expect more cases and illness related to omicron.

"We do not have a lot of lead times and we feel we are bracing for another hurricane. The measures announced today will help protect all Islanders."

With files from Kevin Yarr


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