Decision to end all COVID-19 measures was a mistake, says provincial infectious disease doctor

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Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious disease expert with Horizon Health Network, said officials underestimated the potential spread of the delta variant when it entered the green phase on July 30. (CBC - image credit)
Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious disease expert with Horizon Health Network, said officials underestimated the potential spread of the delta variant when it entered the green phase on July 30. (CBC - image credit)

The decision to end all COVID-19 restrictions at the end of July was a mistake, according to one of the province's top infectious disease specialists.

Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious disease expert with Horizon Health, acknowledged at a public briefing Friday afternoon that officials underestimated the potential spread of the delta variant when it entered the green phase July 30.

"Absolutely, all of us in this room right now, with the evidence of this rapid increase of delta virus in the province, would all agree that was not the right decision to make," he said.

Dow was flanked by Mathieu Chalifoux, the lead COVID-19 epidemiologist with Public Health, Dr. John Dornan, interim CEO of Horizon Health and Dr. France Desrosiers, CEO of Vitalité Health Network.

He said "in retrospect" the decision was a mistake.

"The big question is would we have done anything different? Was that the right decision at that time? It's always hard to speculate because many other jurisdictions made the very same mistake."

WATCH | Top infectious disease specialist says many other jurisdictions made the same mistake

He noted other jurisdictions including Alberta, Saskatchewan, the United States and the United Kingdom made decisions to lift restrictions that later turned out to be too early.

"When you see it, there were a lot of mistakes made," he said.

Dow said he was not part of the decision to lift the emergency order and end public health measures because he was only advising the province "up until July." A pandemic task force he was part of was disbanded.

Asked about Dow's comments at a subsequent news conference, Premier Blaine Higgs said he still believes the reopening was "the right thing to do for New Brunswick" based on the information the government had at the time.

Higgs told reporters ending restrictions gave families a "reprieve" for the summer, even though vaccinated visitors were already allowed to enter the province before the final shift to green and people were able to gather together.

"I know it's convenient to try to get a gotcha moment here," the premier said.

"There's probably through my life lots of time in hindsight I would do thinks different. And yes, could this be one of them in hindsight?

"But I have to reiterate that the decision we made at the time was based on the facts available and the situation our province was in, and how we would go forward. It's always easy to look back."

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell warned before the July 30 reopening that case numbers would rise, and as they mounted in late summer Higgs said the increase had been expected.

Chalifoux would not say Friday whether the current numbers were beyond the expected increase.

"It's the growth, it's the rapidity at which it's occurring that is kind of overwhelming what's currently happening," he said.

CBC
CBC

Dow said New Brunswick had one of the most aggressive approaches to COVID anywhere in the world, with a goal of eliminating the virus altogether.

Those measures succeeded in shutting down seven distinct outbreaks since the pandemic began in March 2020, he said.

"This one, did we undercall this one? I would say yes. I think most New Brunswickers would agree with that. Yes, we did. … Now what we're going to do is we're going to pivot and we're going to bring this under control."

Chalifoux said 35 to 40 new hospitalizations are expected in the next two weeks, but Dow said after that the measures now in place and new ones announced Friday should lead to "a flattening of this curve."

He also said it was clear vaccinations alone could not keep a lid on cases, and some level of Public Health restrictions should stay in place.

"Our Public Health measures are incredibly, incredibly effective, and we should continue to rely on them as an important layer that we should apply along with vaccinations," he said.

As vaccine rates rise, the province can "loosen that layer, but I think the big learning here is we should continue to have a lot of faith, and use, in our Public Health interventions."

Following the briefing Green Party Leader David Coon tweeted: "Thank you for your honesty Dr. Dow."

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