NEW BRUNSWICK – In a live press briefing from Fredericton on Tuesday, Dec. 21, Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, Dorothy Shephard, minister of health, and Blaine Higgs, premier of New Brunswick, announced the province will move to level 2 of the Winter Action Plan on Monday, Dec. 27 at 11:59 p.m.
Russell said neighbouring jurisdictions to the province are all seeing “record levels” of COVID-19, with 4,500 new cases in Quebec Monday, an average of around 500 cases per day over the last five days in Nova Scotia, and that rural eastern Maine has one of the highest infection rates in the U.S.
Russell said New Brunswickers need to “be prepared”, as it’s “not if, but when”, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has the same impact on the province.
“The Omicron variant is far more contagious than the versions of the COVID-19 virus that we have seen thus far in this pandemic,” she said.
“When Omicron replaces Delta as the dominant strain in this province as is happening elsewhere, we expect the number of infections will double every three days.
“That is exponential growth.”
Russell said current modelling “suggests” New Brunswick could start seeing up to 250 cases per day by early January, and “as many as 400 new cases a day by the end of next month.”
She added the jury remains out on the severity of Omicron, but no one who is currently hospitalized in the province has tested positive for the variant.
Russell also announced contact tracers will no longer be contacting direct contacts of confirmed cases of COVID-19; the onus to do so will fall on the individual who is infected. Public Health will offer guidance to these people for what to tell those they need to speak to.
She said in Kindergarten to Grade 8 schools, every student will be considered a close contact, and in high schools, those who have class with the infected student and anyone who rides a bus with them will be considered close contacts.
“It’s only a matter of time before it happens here,” said Higgs of the outbreaks that have resulted from super spreader events in other provinces.
He said the move to level 2 is on the recommendation of Public Health.
Higgs added people should work from home whenever possible, and the fewer contacts each person has, the better it is. He said the province is “taking the action after Christmas, but before New Year’s Eve for a reason”.
Changes in level 2, effective Dec. 27 at 11:59 p.m. include:
- The current household plus Steady 20 is replaced with household plus Steady 10.
- Patrons dining at restaurants must show proof of vaccination and tables must be at least two metres apart.
- Restaurants, retail stores, malls, businesses, gyms, salons and spas, and entertainment centres may continue to operate, but at 50 per cent capacity and with two metres of distance between patrons.
- For public gatherings, venues cannot have events with more than 150 people or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less.
- Faith venues may operate at 50 per cent capacity and with physical distancing. Choirs are not permitted but one soloist may perform if they are at least four metres from the congregation.
- All travellers, including New Brunswickers returning to the province, must register or have a multi-use travel pass. Travellers arriving by air will be provided with a rapid test kit.
- Unvaccinated people entering the province must isolate and be tested on day 10. International travellers must follow federal testing and isolation guidelines and must be tested on day five and day 10.
- Travellers must follow public health measures when in New Brunswick including wearing a mask, physically distancing and staying within a Steady 10.
Higgs said while there are no planned changes to current travel protocols and restriction in the province, “anything is possible in the coming days.
He said anyone travelling to the province should plan to “test and isolate”.
Higgs warned New Brunswickers should be prepared to “be back here regularly” adding “anything short of common sense is going to cause a risk.”
The province is encouraging people to gather supplies of rapid test kits before the holidays. A list of pick-up locations is available online.
More information on the Winter Action Plan and restrictions for level 2 is available online.