New Brunswick health officials report two new COVID-19 cases and one more death

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FREDERICTON — Health officials in New Brunswick reported two new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and one more COVID-19-related death.

A person in their 80s died Thursday morning at the Villa des Jardins long-term care home in Edmundston, in the northwest of the province, chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters.

There have now been 22 COVID-19-related deaths in New Brunswick since the start of the pandemic. The latest cases involve one person in the Moncton region and one in the Edmundston region.

Health officials said they have confirmed four cases of a novel coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom. Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious disease specialist with the Horizon Health Network, said during the media briefing that the U.K. variant is "30 to 80 per cent more contagious, depending on which study you look at."

He said because it is so much more contagious, the U.K. variant can result in many more cases and deaths. Variants, Dow said, could replace the original strain of the virus in Canada in a matter of three months.

"They can infect people who have recovered from the older strain of COVID-19," Dow said. "Younger people who were relatively spared from the older variant are vulnerable to the new ones."

Dow said the variants make it more important to follow guidelines such as wearing masks, limiting contacts and disinfecting surfaces frequently.

"The good news here is that public health measures work," he said. "If you look at countries where variants are circulating right now — South Africa, Ireland and the U.K. — they are actually bringing their numbers down through a combination of public health measures and vaccination."

New Brunswick uses the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for confirmation of variant cases and the lag time for results is about a week.

Russell said the one-week lag is not a big issue right now. "They'll be isolating for two weeks anyway, so they'll be isolating when we get that information back," she said.

Dow said while the new variants are more contagious, he believes the world will get ahead of the virus. "I would go as far to say we will have a great spring ahead of us and a greater summer as long as we continue to follow current guidance," he said.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said she's hopeful the province can return to the "yellow" pandemic-alert level and that the Atlantic travel bubble will be able to reopen. The bubble had allowed free travel between the four Atlantic provinces for the region's residents.

"Health zones will have to remain in the orange level for at least two or three weeks, giving the province time to stabilize the number of COVID-19 cases before we can consider the possibility of moving to yellow," Shephard said.

But the minister warned the situation is still precarious and one wrong move could result in an increase in the number of cases.

Officials said the province has 161 active reported cases of COVID-19 and six people in hospital with the disease, including two in intensive care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press