Province moves to level 3 of winter action plan; Higgs warns of more stringent vaccine mandate

NEW BRUNSWICK – “We are facing a critical situation, and we need serious measures to address it.”

Those were the stern words from Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Jennifer Russell today, Thursday, Jan. 13, from Fredericton as Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs announced the province will move to level 3 of the winter action plan Friday, Jan. 14 at 11:59 p.m., and ending Sunday, Jan. 30.

“Conditions for level 3 have been met,” said Higgs.  “On the advice of Public Health, cabinet is moving New Brunswick to the level 3 phase of our winter plan to manage COVID-19.”

Higgs called the 16 day shutdown “short term pain for long term gain”.

Russell said the health care system is at a “crisis stage”, with hospitalization rates at their highest since the start of the pandemic; 104 New Brunswickers are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Higgs said if the province doesn’t make any changes, it is on track to see active hospitalizations hit 220 by early February, which could impact ability to deliver essential and critical health care services in New Brunswick.

Specific details of the protocols and restrictions under level 3 can be found on the GNB website at www.gnb.ca/coronavirus, but the highlights include single-household bubbles and no in-person learning until Monday, Jan. 31 at the earliest.

Under the level 3 restrictions, New Brunswickers are to remain in their single-household bubble which means those that live in your home, and can include caregivers and anyone who requires support such as an relative who lives alone or another family member. Children from an outside household may also be included as “informal daycare”, or as part of online learning support. The child must be the same while level 3 is in effect.

Also under level 3, public gatherings are not allowed, and gyms, salons, spas, movie theatres, entertainment venues must remain closed. Restaurants can continue to operate, but can offer drive-thru, takeout, and delivery services only.

All other retail businesses can remain open under the same guidelines as level 2; they cannot exceed a 50 per cent capacity and must ensure all patrons remain physically distanced while in-store. GNB is encouraging all business owners to do curbside pick-up. Churches and faith-based venues can offer outdoor, virtual, or in-car services only; no indoor services are permitted.

Level 3 prohibits all organized sports, practices and competitions unless you are only with those inside your household bubble. Outdoor sports like skiing, skating, and snowmobiling are allowed, but physical distancing must be maintained from those outside the household bubble. Chalets, lodges, warm-up shelters can remain open, but can’t exceed a 50 per cent capacity, and can’t serve food or beverages.

And yes, masks are required in all indoor public spaces and masks must also be worn in all outdoor public spaces if you can’t physically distance from those outside your bubble.

Higgs also said at the end of the 16 day “lockdown”, New Brunswickers should expect a more stringent vaccine mandate to be put in place.

“We are not going through 2022 in lockdown,” said Higgs. “We want to be in a position to have our schools and businesses open at the end of these 16 days.

“I’ve been asked many times in media interviews this week about how far I am prepared and willing to go with vaccine mandates,” he said.

“And while I’m not going to elaborate without the discussion and full discussion with health and cabinet, I will say we’re going to do what is necessary to protect all New Brunswickers and to compel people to get vaccinated.

“Life will become increasingly uncomfortable and more difficult for those who are able to be vaccinated but choose not to be.

“We cannot continue to revolve around an unvaccinated population that is having such a significant impact on 90 per cent of people in this province. We’re not gonna go on and keep our province locked down, or keep our lifestyle so disrupted because of the few.

“So, over this next two weeks we’ll develop other measures as necessary based on what we see happening.”

Higgs said for eligible businesses impacted by this lockdown, Opportunities NB is launching a third phase of the New Brunswick Small Business Recovery Grant program where those businesses can receive a one-time grant of up to $10,000 Applications can be made online between Jan. 24 and Feb. 28.

More information, including application requirements, can be found by contacting Opportunities NB’s Business Navigators at nav@navnb.ca or 1-833-799-7966.

For up to date details on COVID-19 in New Brunswick, go to www.gnb.ca/coronavirus

editor@stcroixcourier.ca