A year of COVID-19: Milestones and moments in an unforgettable year

·8 min read
Water Street in downtown St. John's was practically empty on the night of March 27 — a Friday.   (Paul Daly - image credit)
Water Street in downtown St. John's was practically empty on the night of March 27 — a Friday. (Paul Daly - image credit)
Water Street in downtown St. John's was practically empty on the night of March 27 — a Friday.
Water Street in downtown St. John's was practically empty on the night of March 27 — a Friday. (Paul Daly)

On March 14, 2020, Newfoundland and Labrador reported its first case of COVID-19. It triggered a mighty sequence of events that might have felt like a ton of bricks, dropping from nowhere: within a week, the province was in lockdown.

There had, of course, been clear signs that mighty winds were going to blow. Canada had reported its first case on Jan. 25, and by the time the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 was officially a pandemic on March 11, the virus had been found in 114 countries.

It was inevitable then that the novel coronavirus would appear in Newfoundland and Labrador. And, indeed, it struck quickly: the province reported one of the first clusters in the country. Tragedy came with it, too: six deaths have been recorded here so far.

Here are some of the milestones and moments that made the last 12 months unforgettable for everyone who has lived through them.

March 14

The first positive case of COVID-19 in N.L. is announced. The person had returned from a cruise in the Caribbean, and lived in the Labrador-Grenfell area.

March 16

The government announces that schools and registered daycare centres will close.

At a March 17 briefing, Health Minister John Haggie and Dr. Janice Fitzgerald demonstrate a key principle of the pandemic: physical distancing.
At a March 17 briefing, Health Minister John Haggie and Dr. Janice Fitzgerald demonstrate a key principle of the pandemic: physical distancing. (CBC)

March 18

Health Minister John Haggie declares a public health emergency in the province. Similar to a state of emergency, the move was possible because of legislation that the House of Assembly had recently passed. Gyms, theatres, bars and arenas were among the first businesses to be ordered closed. More would follow in subsequent days.

Panic buying meant many store shelves were cleared out, as customers stocked up on goods they feared might become inaccessible.
Panic buying meant many store shelves were cleared out, as customers stocked up on goods they feared might become inaccessible. (Paul Daly)

March 22. 2020

Caul's Funeral Home says mourners who had attended its LeMarchant Road business for two funerals between March 15 and March 17 were being contacted by public health. The so-called "Caul's cluster" becomes one of the first clusters reported in Canada.

March 23, 2020

The Liberal Party suspends its leadership race. More business closures are announced, including salons and all "non-essential" retailers. In coming days, the list of closures increases to include medical and other clinics.

Moment: The eerie silence of lockdown

New Gower Street was practically devoid of traffic on a Friday night in late March, when traffic would normally be bumper to bumper.
New Gower Street was practically devoid of traffic on a Friday night in late March, when traffic would normally be bumper to bumper.(Paul Daly)

For the latter part of March 2020, the lockdown was in full effect in Newfoundland and Labrador. Offices emptied as working from home became the norm; restaurants tried to switch to takeout and delivery; schools switched to online learning. In St. John's, streets that should be busy were largely empty, as seen in some of the photos in this article and in this photo gallery for CBC by photojournalist Paul Daly.

March 30, 2020

N.L. marks its first death from COVID-19: a 78-year-old man whose health deteriorated rapidly after he was admitted to hospital. Over the course of the next year, six deaths will be recorded.

Barber shops and salons were among the businesses ordered to close — twice — under N.L.'s public health emergency legislation.
Barber shops and salons were among the businesses ordered to close — twice — under N.L.'s public health emergency legislation. (Paul Daly)

April 7, 2020

Hibernia decides to halt drilling at its platform for as long as 18 months, in one of a sequence of moves that showed how the oil industry was responding to a sudden drop in demand for petroleum, and a consequent plummet in prices.

April 30, 2020

"Double bubbles" — two-household connections that allowed families or friends to come together — are permitted.

May 7, 2020

St. John's and other municipalities reopen walking trails, one of the first services to reopen.

May 11, 2020

N.L. moves to Alert Level 4, after a 28-day evaluation period. Janice Fitzgerald later says the province could have moved to Level 4 earlier, but had been cautious.

May 13, 2020

The four regional health authorities begin rebooking patients for services that had been suspended in March.

June 8, 2020

N.L. allows more stores to open and wider circles of social contacts with a move to Alert Level 3. Restaurants are allowed to reopen for in-house dining, although with new restrictions.

Moment: Sunshine, fresh air, friends … and chips

Bridgette Richards, 84, got her chips in June thanks to St. John's-based tech company Verafin.
Bridgette Richards, 84, got her chips in June thanks to St. John's-based tech company Verafin. (Katie Breen/CBC)

As the weather warmed up in June, spirits seemed to rise too. Here's a moment to remember: seniors from the Bonaventure Retirement Home in St. John's getting outdoors for a physically distanced, outdoor get-together — and french fries!

June 24, 2020

The provincial government lit up Cabot Tower Tuesday night to kick off its Stay Home Year 2020 campaign.
The provincial government lit up Cabot Tower Tuesday night to kick off its Stay Home Year 2020 campaign.(Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador launches a domestic tourism campaign, encouraging residents to vacation at home, to offset lost business because of a lack of travel from other provinces and countries.

June 25, 2020

The province moves to Alert Level 2, which allows things from religious services to bingo to resume. The province will stay in this phase through the rest of 2020, and until the emergence of a virus variant in February.

July 3, 2020

The "Atlantic bubble" opens, with residents of the four Atlantic provinces allowed to cross borders without needing to self-isolate. On the same day, a section of Water Street in St. John's reopens as a pedestrian mall, to help draw visitors to restaurants, bars and shops downtown. The experiment runs until Sept. 7, although restaurants are allowed to maintain sidewalk patios through October.

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(CBC)

Aug. 19, 2020

Andrew Furey, having defeated John Abbott in a Liberal leadership race that concluded Aug. 3, is sworn in as premier. He shuffles the cabinet and appoints Siobhan Coady as deputy premier.

Sept. 4, 2020

Andrew Furey appoints Moya Greene, former head of the Royal Mail and Canada Post, to oversee a volunteer economic recovery team.

Sept. 17, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Donald Burrage upholds Newfoundland and Labrador's so-called "travel ban." Burrage said the move violated a section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but was protected as a reasonable exception because it protects public safety.

Nov. 23, 2020

Amid rising cases in New Brunswick, Andrew Furey says N.L. is pulling out of the Atlantic bubble for at least two weeks. The four-way bubble stays dormant for months.

Dec. 16, 2020

Newfoundland and Labrador&#39;s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald smiles at St. John&#39;s public health nurse Ellen Foley-Vick as she puts a Band-Aid on her arm, after giving her the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in St. John&#39;s on Dec. 16. Foley-Vick was the first person in Newfoundland and Labrador to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Newfoundland and Labrador's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald smiles at St. John's public health nurse Ellen Foley-Vick as she puts a Band-Aid on her arm, after giving her the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in St. John's on Dec. 16. Foley-Vick was the first person in Newfoundland and Labrador to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.(Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press)

Janice Fitzgerald delivers the first COVID-19 vaccines in the province, at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's. Public health nurse Ellen Foley-Vick and Dr. Jatin Morkar, a physician, are the first two people to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Moment: Mummers, sweet mummers, get lost

Sean Panting's talents for parody and pointed lyrics were at their highest in this take on Simani's The Mummers Song, which Panting recorded for CBC in December.

Jan. 15, 2021

Buoyed by consistently low numbers of new cases, Andrew Furey calls an election for Feb. 13.

Feb. 8, 2021

In what will prove to start a dramatic turn, Janice Fitzgerald announces 11 cases of COVID-19. Details emerge of a cluster first associated with Mount Pearl Senior High.

Feb. 11, 2021

N.L. records 100 new confirmed cases, the province's highest single-day total to date.

Feb. 12, 2021

Janice Fitzgerald — having put the metro St. John's area under lockdown earlier in the week — announces that the B117 virus variant has been confirmed in the province. In an unusual Friday night announcement, she brings the entire province up to Alert Level 5. Later that night, chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk cancels the in-person voting that had been scheduled for the very next day.

Feb. 20, 2021

The province hits a peak of 434 active cases. At the height of the Caul's cluster, N.L.'s highest active caseload was 192.

Feb. 26, 2021

Confident that rates have declined, Janice Fitzgerald moves all but the Avalon Peninsula to Alert 4. The Avalon remains at Alert Level 5.

Moment: 'I miss Calvin'

Emmy Laine, 4, holds a sign she made for Calvin Young, who works at the Dominion grocery store in Conception Bay South.
Emmy Laine, 4, holds a sign she made for Calvin Young, who works at the Dominion grocery store in Conception Bay South.(Submitted by Patty Laine)

Sometimes the words of a child sum up emotions in the most simple and powerful ways. Earlier this month, we reported the story of Emmy Laine, 4, who so missed seeing Calvin Young at her family's favourite supermarket, she made signs to tell him she was thinking of him.

March 4, 2021

Newfoundland and Labrador's number of COVID-19 passes the 1,000 mark.

March 13, 2021

Shortly after midnight, communities on the Avalon Peninsula move to Alert Level 4, while the rest of the province moves to Alert Level 3.

Stella&#39;s Circle, a non-profit organization in St. John&#39;s, relied on its perennial &#39;Hope&#39; signage to express a message through the pandemic.
Stella's Circle, a non-profit organization in St. John's, relied on its perennial 'Hope' signage to express a message through the pandemic. (Paul Daly)

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