The Newfoundland and Labrador government has announced a range of new restrictions amid surging COVID-19 case numbers, including a move to close public schools on Tuesday for a couple of days before the Christmas break.
A total of 61 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the province Sunday: 18 in the Eastern Health region (1 contact of a previous case, 17 under investigation); 32 in Central Health (21 contacts of previous cases, 10 under investigation, one travel-related); 10 in the Western region (four contacts of previous cases, six under investigation); and one in Labrador-Grenfell Health (under investigation).
Of these cases, nine are confirmed to be the Omicron variant, and 34 are presumed to be the Omicron variant.
In response to the rising cases, a number of new restrictions were announced during an unexpected COVID-19 briefing given Sunday afternoon by Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Premier Andrew Furey, Minister of Health and Community Services John Haggie and Education Minister Tom Osborne.
Central region moving to Level 3
Parts of the Central Health region (Badger, Grand Falls-Winsor, Gander, and Twillingate) will move immediately to Level 3, with the following restrictions applying:
Funerals, burials, and religious ceremonies limited to 100 people, or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less.
Performance venues, cinemas and bingo halls to close.
Households to limit gatherings to "steady 20" bubble.
Fitness centres, pools and yoga studios limited to 100 people at a time, or 50 per cent capacity per room.
Restaurants to reduce capacity to 50 per cent.
Bars to close.
Sports organizations limited to training only — no competitions allowed.
Work from home recommended.
Travel in and out of the region not recommended.
New restrictions for travellers
Among the new measures are restrictions on travellers entering the province.
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, all incoming travellers must self-isolate for five days upon arrival and take a rapid COVID-19 test every day for five days, after which point they can leave isolation, provided all results are negative.
Unvaccinated children will have to self-isolate for five days, and produce a rapid test each day.
Rotational workers must produce a negative PCR test within three days of arrival. They must also self-isolate for five days while taking a rapid test each day, after which point they can enter modified self-isolation, provided their results are negative.
Fitzgerald said there are no changes to restrictions for unvaccinated travellers at this time.
Travellers are permitted to self-isolate with family members if they wish, but all parties must follow the restrictions.
Education minister Tom Osborne announced during the briefing that classes in K-12 schools, with the exception of those already closed, will continue Monday, Dec. 20.
However, those schools will close to students on Tuesday and Wednesday, resuming Jan. 4, 2022.
"Let me be very clear," Osborne said, "public health continues to advise that schools are safe to re-open."
Osborne said the department is "erring on the side of caution" and that a move to online learning may be possible in the new year.
He said keeping schools open for Monday would be an opportunity for students and staff to "clew up any outstanding business.
Students are encouraged to bring home supplies, including Chromebooks for Grades 7-12, in the event of a switch to online learning.
A different kind of Christmas
Fitzgerald said the new measures are designed to minimize the number of casual contacts.
"Unfortunately, more movement and travel is what COVID-19 thrives on," she said. "By the time we find a positive case, the virus has likely spread onward."
She added that evidence shows even the fully vaccinated can still get and transmit the Omicron variant.
Fitzgerald said the province's health systems are at full capacity, and that the new measures are "our way of reducing that risk."
"No doubt this will be a difficult holiday for some," Fitzgerald said, urging the public to reach out to those who live alone.
"We need to be prepared for changes, and possibly with little notice," Fitzgerald said.
"The best gift we can give this Christmas does not come from a store," she said, visibly emotional, "it's our love and support."
The latest numbers bring the total active cases in the province to 127—the highest active caseload since Oct. 6.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in the province to date is 2213. There are currently no hospitalizations, and more than 360,000 tests have been completed to date.