As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, N.L. makes changes to travel restrictions, suspends Atlantic bubble

·5 min read
Dr. Rosann Seviour, Newfoundland and Labrador's acting chief medical officer of health, announced 14 new cases of COVID-19 in the province on Tuesday. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Dr. Rosann Seviour, Newfoundland and Labrador's acting chief medical officer of health, announced 14 new cases of COVID-19 in the province on Tuesday. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

Newfoundland and Labrador added 14 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, all in the Central Health region, where cases continue to climb.

Dr. Rosann Seviour, acting chief medical officer of health, told reporters on Tuesday that all of the new cases are under investigation, adding there's also a presumptive positive case in the same area.

The province also reported 10 more recoveries, Seviour said. Two of those are in the Eastern Health region, six in Central Health and two in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region.

The active caseload ticks upward slightly to 159 — 143 of which are in the Central Health region.

There are now four people in hospital due to COVID-19.

"We continue to see community transmission within the central region of this province. This, combined with several other clusters in recent weeks, is putting significant demand on our frontline public health resources for contact tracing," Seviour said.

"When public health capacity is overwhelmed, this is a signal that we need to strengthen our public health measures."

As a result of a continuous rise in COVID cases in N.L., and the epidemiology across the country, the province is making changes to travel restrictions which will come into effect 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Any traveller who is partially vaccinated — that is, who has no more than one dose — will now have to meet the same requirements as those who are unvaccinated. They will be required to isolate themselves for two weeks, but can avail of a COVID-19 test on days seven through nine of their isolation period.

If that test is negative, that person can leave isolation.

Watch the full Sept. 28 update:

The province is also suspending the Atlantic bubble, Seviour said, meaning travellers from the Atlantic provinces will have to follow the same rules as people arriving from other regions.

"Having an Atlantic bubble was low-risk in the summer when the entire region had similar epidemiology. That is changing, and we are starting to see unfavourable epidemiology across the region as a fourth wave carries on across the country," she said.

There will be no change for travellers crossing the Quebec-Labrador border, according to Seviour. Anyone living in the border communities that have not travelled outside of the region in the past 14 days are still permitted to travel into the province without completing the travel form.

Seviour said people are still allowed to travel to N.L., but the changes made will reduce the risk of importing COVID-19 and give the province breathing room to take control of the current outbreak on home turf.

Vaccine passport taking shape

After days of reporting infections in the double digits, government and health pleaded with the public Tuesday afternoon to book a vaccine appointment if they haven't done so yet.

Seviour said the emerging evidence on the delta variant indicates one dose of vaccine alone does not provide sufficient protection.

While 80 per cent of the province's eligible population has two doses, the delta variant is pushing the threshold for herd immunity higher, to about 90 per cent, she said.

She said the two-dose rate is lacking in the 20- to 39-year-old age bracket, something jurisdictions across Canada are grappling with.

Only 66.4 per cent of people in their 20s are fully vaccinated, while 79.8 per cent have one dose. People in their 30s have hit a similar mark, with 69.6 per cent fully vaccinated and 81.1 per cent with one dose.

In the face of delta, the province continues to develop its plan to roll out a vaccine passport, which Premier Andrew Furey confirmed will be mandatory for non-essential activities when ready.

Digital Government Minister Sarah Stoodley called the passport "another tool in the toolbox" which will help keep residents safe and businesses open.

It will be a certified record of proof of vaccination that will grant access to a business or a venue through a digital QR code or a physical copy that is printed on paper or a card.

"When the solution is ready, it will take the form of two smartphone apps. One smartphone app for residents, and one for the business community," Stoodley said.

"Any resident who is fully vaccinated or has an approved medical exemption will be provided a COVID-19 vaccination record in the form of a QR code."

For those without internet access or a printer, Stoodley said a number will be provided where people can call and request their QR code be sent to them by mail.

Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

Consultations began on Tuesday with businesses, said Stoodley.

The official launch will be next week, including the name and a full release of the details.

"It's important that when you get this you guard it as you would your MCP card," Stoodley said.

"This is kind of personal, it's important you protect it."

Stoodley said the N.L. apps will be safe in terms of keeping personal information private, saying no information is saved.

Furey said penalties for businesses that don't comply with the passport are still being contemplated, but "will be in line with other jurisdictions."

Further changes coming

During his opening remarks on Tuesday, Furey said the province is in talks with unions with respect to making vaccines mandatory for public employees.

"As a government we feel it's our responsibility to protect the people that we serve," he said.

"Most want to have some input in terms of where we're going with this, and what it'll actually look like. The general feeling was very receptive.

"This is not a path we wanted to go down by any stretch, but we do have a responsibility to the public first and foremost, and that's why we made this decision."

Furey said another media briefing will be held on Wednesday with Dr. Proton Rahman, a clinical scientist with Eastern Health and professor of medicine at Memorial University, to discuss current COVID-19 modelling for Newfoundland and Labrador.

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