New Brunswick to provide one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to entire population by July

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FREDERICTON — Public health restrictions across New Brunswick will be eased this Monday morning because COVID-19 infections are on a steady trend downward, health officials announced Friday.

The province's chief medical officer of health, however, said the decision to shift the entire province to the less-restrictive yellow level comes with a caveat. Jennifer Russell warned that if infections spike over the weekend, the decision to ease restrictions will be "revisited."

"I am concerned about the rising number of active cases in the Miramichi region," she told reporters.

Russell also confirmed that with the expected arrival of the province's first shipment of the two-dose Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine later this month, the province plans to provide one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to every New Brunswicker before the end of June.

Similar announcements have been made in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We are making adjustments to our plan that will allow us to vaccinate more New Brunswickers in a shorter time frame," New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said Friday.

"We will have more information about the updated plan very soon."

The minister said the past two months have been difficult for the province, with the COVID-19 caseload rising after the holidays and the arrival last month of the U.K variant. Lockdowns were imposed in some areas and some businesses were forced to shut down as travel was restricted.

"We were not able to spend time with many of our family members and close friends," Shephard said.

"But once again, our province has gotten back on the right track."

The new timing also reflects recent recommendations from the National Advisory Committee of Immunization, which said provinces should wait four month between doses when faced with a limited supply, in order to quickly immunize as many people as possible.

Russell said New Brunswickers have been through a lot of turmoil in the past year, and she encouraged residents to look after their mental health and reach out to others who are struggling.

"We have now spent a full year on this COVID-19 rollercoaster," she said. "With hope one day and sorrow the next, many of us have been left feeling weary and depleted. COVID fatigue is real, no matter where you live."

Meanwhile, the shift to the yellow level, which takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Sunday night, includes a number of new rules.

Residents will be allowed to expand their "steady 10" group of close contacts to a "steady 15." That group can visit venues together, including dining out at restaurants. There are also new rules about sports teams, tournaments and formal indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Russell reported three new cases in the Miramichi area and one in the Fredericton region on Friday.

The province has 33 active reported cases and three people in hospital with the disease, including two in intensive care. The total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic was declared stood at 1,447 on Friday, which includes 1,385 recoveries and 28 deaths.

With a number of new cases appearing earlier this week in the Miramichi region — and confirmation that the U.K. variant is present — a mass testing clinic has been set up at the Dr. Losier Middle School in Miramichi. The clinic was to remain open Friday and Saturday for individuals who do not have any symptoms of COVID-19 but want to be tested.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021.

The Canadian Press