ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Bars in Newfoundland and Labrador will be closed for one of the busiest nights of the year after public health officials tightened restrictions Wednesday in an effort to beat back the spread of COVID-19.
Beginning Thursday, the entire province will move to a heightened alert level requiring limits on gatherings and household bubbles of up to 20 close contacts, said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the provincial chief medical officer of health. Restaurants can operate at half capacity with physical distancing measures in place, but bars, theatres and bingo halls must close.
Thursday is Tibb's Eve, a unique Newfoundland and Labrador holiday steeped in folklore and tradition, and it's typically one of the busiest nights of the year for bars in downtown St. John's.
Fitzgerald said it gave her "no joy" to introduce the new measures but noted the number of active reported cases of COVID-19 in the province has climbed from 30 to 223 within a week. Officials announced 60 new cases on Wednesday alone.
"If we can get everyone's support in adhering to these measures, it will help to alleviate the pressure on our health-care system and preserve capacity to deliver vaccinations, respond to COVID outbreaks and treat all non-COVID-19 health concerns," Fitzgerald told reporters Wednesday during a briefing in St. John's. "Today we need to face things as they are, not as we want them to be."
There are active outbreaks in three of the province's four health regions, and over 60 cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant have been detected in the province, Fitzgerald added.
"At this point, except for a few contacts of the Delta cases ... right now we're assuming anything that's coming up is Omicron," she said.
She said nobody was in hospital due to the disease, and her team is watching the hospitalization numbers closely in other jurisdictions where the spread of the Omicron variant began earlier than in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Premier Andrew Furey said he understands the news comes at an inopportune time, especially for bars and other businesses betting on Tibb's Eve revenue to carry them through the winter.
"COVID doesn't know that it's Tibbs Eve, or that it's Christmas Day," he said. "This is an important measure right now, given how fast it's moving."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2021.
The Canadian Press