Unvaccinated New Brunswick residents and visitors will soon find it difficult to access a wide array of businesses, restaurants and entertainment venues as the province deals with the most newly confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.
A visibly frustrated Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health — as she announced a daily record number of new COVID cases and another virus-related death — pointed the finger of blame directly at misinformed people who refuse to get vaccinated.
“We have been patient, and we have strived to be encouraging, and we’ve tried not to judge, but our patience is running thin,” she said.
Russell said patience is growing especially thin among most New Brunswickers who are fully vaccinated and overworked health-care providers as they watch the system put in jeopardy by the unvaccinated.
To battle the growing COVID-19 numbers, Premier Blaine Higgs introduced strict new measures aimed directly at the unvaccinated. Starting at midnight, Sept. 21, he said, people must present proof of full vaccination when accessing a long list of services in New Brunswick.
That list includes:
Higgs said events, businesses and services that fall under these categories must ask to see proof of vaccination and government-issued identification from all patrons and participants who are 12 and older.
He added anyone who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons must show proof of such exemption.
“It’s important we impact the daily lives of those who could be vaccinated but choose not to be,” Higgs said.
He said proof of vaccination could be an immunization record or a photograph of an immunization record from a regional health authority clinic, pharmacy or Public Health.
Higgs added business owners need not require employees to be fully vaccinated, but if they don’t, the employee must wear a mask at all times and undergo regular COVID testing.
The premier said the rules are aimed at the unvaccinated and should not affect those who did the right thing by getting both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination. He said the only inconvenience for the vaccinated will be showing identification and proof of the vaccine.
Higgs said people travelling into New Brunswick, including those returning, would need to show proof of vaccination or be forced to self-quarantine at least 10 days, after which they must show a negative COVID-19 test.
Higgs said the province would not restore, at least at this point, checkpoints at entrances to the province, but the unvaccinated who enter will find it challenging to access many of the services they would want. He said those who try to skirt the system or produce false documentation would face significant fines.
Higgs acknowledged the new requirement places pressure on business owners to enforce the rules, but the province will offer clear guidelines and provide assistance and information.
The premier said the province discussed implementing the rules with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). He said CFIB members have mixed feelings about the rules, but all agree on one thing.
“What was consistent is they don’t want to shut down,” he said.
Higgs said the province would provide signs indicating the businesses are enforcing government rules, not their own.
He said enforcement officers would be spot-checking to ensure the rules are enforced.
Higgs said he doesn’t “expect great resistance, other than from those specific groups we’re dealing with now,”
Russell directed her frustration to the anti-vax movement motivated by misinformation and false data.
“You’re jeopardizing the health of your family, your community, your province,” she said.
She said the facts are clear, noting over 85 per cent of the new COVID-19 cases are not fully vaccinated. Most hospitalized COVID-19 patients are not fully vaccinated, she said.
“If you’re not fully vaccinated, you are 23 times more likely to be hospitalized,” she said.
Russell said those hospitalizations take care away from patients seeking treatment for other medical conditions. She pointed to Alberta and Nova Scotia, where hospitals are turning patients away or delaying treatment.
The Wednesday update identified the latest COVID-19 victim, the 48th death since the pandemic began, as a person in their 60s from Zone 7, the Miramichi region.
With 62 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, Russell said the virus is in all regions of the province. She expressed specific concern about Moncton, Campbellton, Fredericton and the Upper River Valley.
Higgs said while the province initially hoped a 75 per cent rate among those eligible for the vaccine would reduce the spread of the virus, the new variants are proving more transmissible and virulent. They now set the goal at 90 per cent.
Russell said 52 of the 63 new cases announced Wednesday were not fully vaccinated.
Zone 3, Fredericton and the Upper River Valley, with 19 cases, had the most reported on Wednesday, with 13 liked to previous cases and six under investigation.
Zone 1, the Moncton region, reported 18 and Zone 2, the Saint John Region, reported 10.
There were six new cases in Zone 4, the Edmundston, Grand Falls and St. Quentin region, with 10 in Zone 5, the Campbellton region.
Zone 6, the Bathurst region, reported four new cases, with five new infections in Zone 7, the Miramichi region.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun