More than 500 days after New Brunswick's first case of COVID-19 was confirmed, the province enters the green phase of recovery Saturday, without any Public Health restrictions.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, has warned cases will increase, but because of vaccination rates, she expects they will be less serious and result in few hospitalizations.
A total of 66.7 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and 82 per cent had at least one dose, as of Friday.
More than a million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford have been administered.
A year-and-a-half ago, health experts predicted it might take until now just to develop a vaccine.
New Brunswick officials anxiously watched as COVID-19 swept across other parts of the globe, with emergency rooms over capacity and under-equipped, death rates rising and lockdowns increasingly commonplace.
They said it was only a matter of time before the coronavirus reached the province.
But students and teachers from several New Brunswick high schools were about to leave for week-long trips to Europe, including Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries. Hundreds of families were also about to go to Florida, among other destinations, for March break.
The government acted swiftly, ordering those returning from international travel not to attend school for two weeks, but the virus did indeed find its way into the province.
It has infected 2,365 people, claimed the lives of 46, many of whom died alone because of COVID restrictions, and the livelihoods of thousands.
It has shut down borders, kept families separated, and seniors in long-term care homes isolated, longing for human touch.
Saturday marks a new chapter. The emergency mandatory order has ended and all restrictions are lifted, including mandatory masks, gathering limits and provincial border checks for travellers within Canada.
Here is a look back at some of the key events along the province's winding and sometimes bumpy pandemic journey:
March 11, 2020: First presumptive case
Public Health announces the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in New Brunswick. It is also the first case in Atlantic Canada.
The woman in her 50s, who has returned from France, was "minimally symptomatic" and self-isolating.
The news comes just hours after the World Health Organization deems the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, infecting more than 100,000 people in more than 100 countries.
March 12, 2020: First case confirmed
The national laboratory in Winnipeg confirms the presumptive case, which was considered "probable," is positive.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell won't say which part of France the woman was travelling from or what airports she travelled through, citing privacy. She says she doesn't know how many people came into contact with the woman, but those who have been traced are in self-isolation.
Russell recommends people avoid mass gatherings because they can increase the spread and create additional strain on the health-care system.
Premier Blaine Higgs announces an all-party cabinet committee will help manage the outbreak.
Toilet paper starts to become scarce because some people begin stockpiling in a panic.
Princess Cruises, one of the main cruise lines with ships scheduled to visit Saint John, announces it will suspend its global operations for 60 days after passengers on two of its ships — Diamond Princess and Grand Princess — become infected, both abroad and in North America.
March 13, 2020: Schools closed
Late on a Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs announces all public schools will close for two weeks, possibly longer, to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier in the week, Ontario and Quebec also closed public schools.
Universities and community colleges also close.
The closure will not affect daycares, which Higgs says are an essential service. (Three days later, they too are ordered to close, along with a long list of public places, including arenas and theatres.)
The province's Tele-Care 811 line is "pretty much jam-packed" with people calling about their health, officials say.
March 19, 2020: State of emergency declared
Premier Blaine Higgs declares a state of emergency, giving the government broad powers to enforce business closures and Public Health measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
"These are unprecedented actions, but these are necessary as we are in unprecedented times," Higgs tells reporters, as the number of confirmed cases jumps to seven, and probable cases stand at four, with no hospitalizations.
Too many people are not following Public Health advice to stay home if possible and to maintain a social distance of six feet, or about two metres, he says.
"Before this was a recommendation, today it's a requirement."
All businesses are ordered to close, except those deemed essential, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, repair garages and automotive parts stores, post offices, convenience stores, hardware stores, animal and fish feed providers, NB Liquor and Cannabis NB. Restaurants can remain open as takeouts.
Asked if it's possible someone could go to jail for disobeying, Higgs says the declaration does provide authorities with such powers. "But that is not our intent. Nor do we hope that we get there."
Air Canada reduces flights into New Brunswick until April 30.
March 25, 2020: Border checkpoints announced
New Brunswick sets up screening checkpoints at the Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. borders as the provincial case count jumps to 26.
"Unnecessary travel is no longer permitted," says Premier Blaine Higgs, citing non-residents entering the province to socialize or shop.
Anyone allowed in must self-isolate for 14 days. Anyone who doesn't comply is to receive a warning, followed by a fine of up to $10,000.
New Brunswick could be dealing with the effects of COVID-19 for another 18 to 24 months before a vaccine or other treatments are available, says Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Health-care students and retirees offer help to combat the spread of the virus.
April 2, 2020: Schools to remain closed
Education Minister Dominic Cardy announces public schools will likely remain closed for the rest of the school year and lays out a plan for students to spend from one to 2½ hours a day working at home on material to be available online.
The province could run out of testing supplies within one week with ramped-up testing, and personal protective equipment (PPE) within three to four weeks, Premier Blaine Higgs says. The global competition for scarce supplies is "very concerning."
Higgs has already called on the federal government to declare a national state of emergency, saying Canada needs a consistent, national approach to stop the spread of the virus.
April 6, 2020: COVID task force created
Premier Blaine Higgs announces a four-person task force to oversee the health-care system's response to the pandemic.
The task force's decision-making authority over all aspects of the system, including health authorities, ambulances, extramural care, special care homes and nursing homes, will allow the government to move more quickly, he says.
Ted Flemming, the health minister at the time, compares the approach to a military structure required to act quickly in a war.
The move comes after it took two weeks to get the required sign-offs from 23 different officials across the health-care system to change a protocol.
April 9, 2020: Up to 1,750 deaths predicted
Provincial projections suggest COVID-19 could kill 550 to 1,750 New Brunswickers over the next 18 to 24 months, until a vaccine is available, depending on compliance with Public Health measures.
"To put those numbers in perspective, 1,800 New Brunswickers died in the Second World War," Premier Blaine Higgs tells reporters during the daily COVID briefing in Fredericton.
Had the government taken no action, such as closing schools and non-essential businesses, as many as 5,600 New Brunswickers could have died during the pandemic, says Ted Flemming, the health minister.
The province has 111 active cases of COVID-19, with five people in hospital, including four in intensive care.
April 24, 2020: 4-phase recovery plan begins
Premier Blaine Higgs announces the "hard work" of New Brunswickers to follow Public Health measures to flatten the COVID-19 curve has allowed the province to take the first step toward recovery.
A four-phase recovery plan begins immediately with allowing one household to bubble with another, modelled after success in New Zealand.
"Welcome to the new normal," Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, says of the first phase, which also includes reopening businesses, educational facilities, the health-care system, recreational activities, and cultural events.
It comes as New Brunswick marks its sixth straight day with no new cases of COVID-19. There are 11 active cases, including four people in hospital, one of whom is in intensive care
The goal of the first phase is to balance the reopening of social and economic settings while preventing a major resurgence of transmission, Higgs says.
There won't be any concerts or festivals for at least the rest of the year, he says, and bars and organized sports may not be able to start up again until a vaccine is available, which could take 12 to 18 months.
April 28, 2020: Foreign temporary workers banned
Premier Blaine Higgs announces foreign temporary workers will be banned from entering the province to work on farms or in fish plants.
"Right now the risk of allowing more people to enter the province is simply too great," he says.
Although Higgs pledges to work with producers to shift some of the 1,500 foreign workers already in the province to fill gaps, Murray Tweedie, owner of M & S Wild Blueberry Farms, says he could face closure.
Twenty-four workers are due to arrive from Jamaica on May 4 to help prepare his fields for pollination by 700 hives of bees coming from Michigan nine days later.
Federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc says the Trudeau government disagrees with the decision because COVID-19 has already brought enough economic uncertainty in the agricultural and seafood sectors.
May 8, 2020: Orange phase of recovery begins
The closure of non-essential services to slow the spread of COVID-19 has devastated the economy and forced businesses to close temporarily.
New Brunswick's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose 4.4 percentage points from March to April, after the province lost 27,900 full-time jobs and 6,400 part-time jobs.
The new phase, the orange phase, allows thousands of non-essential businesses, such as retail shops, restaurants, museums, libraries and campgrounds to welcome back patrons, but they must develop an operational plan to meet Public Health measures. These include physical distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, screening for symptoms, cleaning and disinfecting practices, signage, facial coverings and enforcement.
Inspectors from Public Health, WorkSafeNB and the Department of Public Safety will be visiting workplaces.
A mask is required in public when one cannot maintain a distance of two metres, and workplaces can require the public to wear a mask to gain entry.
May 21, 2020: Surplus turns to deficit
The Department of Finance says it's now projecting a $299.2-million deficit for 2020-21, rather than the $92.4-million surplus announced when the budget was presented to the legislature March 10.
"The impacts of the pandemic are only beginning to be understood, and it will take more time to fully comprehend the effects on our economy and our finances," Finance Minister Ernie Steeves says.
Earlier, the Royal Bank of Canada estimated New Brunswick was headed for a $600-million deficit based on the trajectory of the economy, and the Bank of Nova Scotia suggested the budget shortfall would reach $1.19 billion.
May 22, 2020: Yellow phase begins in stages
New Brunswick moves into phase three of its COVID-19 recovery plan, the yellow phase, but it will take several weeks to implement.
Among the immediate changes, New Brunswickers can extend their two-household bubbles to include other family and friends, with physical distancing and a 10-person limit recommended for indoor gatherings.
Barbers and hairstylists also reopen, allowing many people to get their first haircut in months.
Premier Blaine Higgs announces foreign temporary workers will be allowed back in, starting May 29.
"We are still prioritizing the safety of New Brunswickers but as we restart our economy, we have to find the ways to meet the needs of agriculture and seafood sectors.".
May 27, 2020: 'Irresponsible' medical professional blamed for outbreak
Premier Blaine Higgs blames an "irresponsible" medical professional for two other confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Campbellton region, Zone 5, and forcing that northern part of the province back into the more restrictive orange phase of recovery.
The medical professional in their 50s travelled to Quebec for "personal reasons, was not forthcoming about their reasons for travel upon returning to New Brunswick and they did not self-isolate as a result," Higgs says.
The person then treated patients for two weeks at the Campbellton Regional Hospital and possibly other locations.
The hospital's emergency department was forced to close for 24 hours and all non-urgent or elective health-care services were cancelled "due to the high risk of transmission of COVID-19," the Vitalité Health Network says.
The other two cases include a person in their 90s and a child who attended two daycares.
Mobile testing is to be set up and everyone in the region is encouraged to get tested.
After two weeks with no active cases in the province, the region is at a higher risk "due to the actions of one irresponsible individual," Higgs says. "If you ignore the rules, you put your family, your friends and your fellow New Brunswickers at risk."
June 2, 2020: Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola breaks silence
Premier Blaine Higgs never publicly identifies the medical professional who travelled to Quebec, but Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola, a family physician, is quickly named on social media and his photo circulated.
On June 2, Ngola confirms in an interview with Radio-Canada's La Matinale, his first since being labelled by some as "patient zero" in the resurgence of cases, that he was the doctor.
He says he drove overnight to Montreal to pick up his four-year-old daughter because her mother had gone to Africa for a funeral. He returned to work at the hospital the next day without self-isolating for 14 days.
"Maybe it was an error in judgment," he says, pointing out that workers, including nurses who live in Quebec, cross the border each day with no isolation period required.
Ngola, who is from Congo, faces racist threats, is suspended by the Vitalité Health Network, and criminally investigated by the RCMP.
June 4, 2020: First COVID-related death, restrictions eased
COVID-19 claims its first New Brunswick victim. Daniel Ouellette, 84, was a resident at the Manoir de la Vallée, a long-term care home in Atholville.
"He couldn't beat it. He tried, but it's a difficult disease," says his son Michel Ouellette.
On May 29, the care home asked if they could test his father, along with other residents and staff. Two days later, a doctor called saying his father was COVID-positive, unconscious and being transported to the Campbellton Regional Hospital.
It was difficult for the family not to be able to say good-bye to him because of COVID restrictions. "That we couldn't go see him … comfort him, hold his hand … I wouldn't wish this on anyone," Ouellette said in French.
The 15 active cases in the province include five residents of the Manoir and four employees.
Officials link the outbreak to a medical professional travelling to Quebec and returning to work without self-isolating.
More than 300 people are self-isolating as a result of contact tracing, including six health-care workers.
A record 4,293 people were tested over three days — more than 10 per cent of the population of Zone 5. None tested positive.
The premier announces plans to open the borders to Canadians with immediate family in the province or who own property, starting June 19, provided they self-isolate for 14 days.
Cabinet and the all-party COVID-19 committee also deem attending funerals and burials for an immediate family member in New Brunswick essential travel.
Indoor gatherings of up to 10 people in private homes will be permitted everywhere but the Campbellton region. Outdoor gatherings of up to 50, and religious services, wedding and funerals of up to 50 will also be permitted with physical distancing.
Residents in long-term care homes will be allowed to have up to two visitors outdoors.
Elective surgeries and other non-emergency services will increase, and low-contact team sports will be permitted.
Dr. Jennifer Russell says the "unintended consequences" of isolation during the pandemic include damage to mental health, income and the timely access to medical treatment.
June 5, 2020: Masks mandatory to enter public buildings
New Brunswickers must wear a face covering to enter buildings open to the general public, starting June 9, the province announces.
"Once inside the building and if you are able to maintain physical distancing of two metres, the mask can be removed," the government clarifies nearly four hours after the announcement.
Previously, face coverings were required only in locations where maintaining a physical distance of two metres, was not possible.
June 6, 2020: Province reverses mandatory mask order
Just one day after making masks mandatory to enter public buildings, the province scraps the new rule.
"It was not the intent to place an additional expectation on businesses or the public regarding wearing a face covering in a public space," it says.
People do have to wear masks if they are in a public space where social distancing cannot be maintained.
July 3, 2020: Atlantic bubble begins
The Atlantic bubble opens, allowing residents of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador to travel in the region for any reason with no need to self-isolate for 14 days.
There are many smiling faces at the Aulac checkpoint, excited to be travelling to New Brunswick and be reunited with family and friends.
With hundreds of vehicles waiting to cross, the delays are frustrating for some.
Aug. 10, 2020: Proposal to delay provincial election
Premier Blaine Higgs asks the three opposition party leaders to agree to a deal that would avoid forcing an early provincial election. He pledges to listen to their policy ideas if they agree to keep his Progressive Conservatives in power until the scheduled election in October 2022 or until the pandemic is over.
Aug. 14, 2020: Liberals reject election deal
The Opposition Liberals pull out of negotiations to delay a provincial election.
Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers says Premier Blaine Higgs wants unlimited powers for two years while insisting that other parties sign on for major reforms.
Higgs says he will take the weekend to think about next steps.
Aug. 17, 2020: Higgs calls election for Sept. 14, doctor faces charge
Premier Blaine Higgs calls a provincial election for Sept. 14, despite the COVID-19 outbreak — the first to be held in Canada during the pandemic.
The doctor accused of being at the centre of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Campbellton region in May faces a charge under the provincial Emergency Measures Act. Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola is issued an appearance notice for allegedly failing to quarantine when he returned from Quebec.
Ngola's trip was the week of May 10. The COVID-19 outbreak began May 21. A total of 41 people in the Campbellton region became infected, and two of them, who were in their 80s, died.
Oct. 8, 2020: Masks mandatory, regardless of distancing
Masks will be mandatory in most indoor public spaces in New Brunswick, regardless of whether physical distancing can be maintained, as of midnight, Premier Blaine Higgs announces.
Only children under age two and people with a valid medical excuse are exempt.
Higgs says he had hoped the majority of people would "do the right thing" to protect the people around them after he raised the mandatory mask issue last week.
But enforcement officers surveying public spaces across the province have found the average number of people wearing a mask is 36 per cent. In major urban centres, the number is as low as 16 per cent.
Nov. 23, 2020: Atlantic bubble bursts
The Atlantic bubble bursts when P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador announce they are withdrawing for at least two weeks because of rising case counts in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
New Brunswick reports 15 new cases and another death, the province's seventh.
Dec. 15, 2020: 1st shipment of COVID vaccines arrives
The 1,950 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are in a white carton packed with dry ice to keep the vaccine near minus 80 degrees.
The valuable cargo is driven to the Miramichi Regional Hospital, where the province's first vaccination clinics will take place.
The vaccines arrive 279 days after New Brunswick reported its first COVID-19 case. More than 550 other people have tested positive for the respiratory virus. Eight people have died.
Dec. 19, 2020: 1st New Brunswicker receives vaccine
Pauline Gauvin, 84, of Miramichi, becomes the first New Brunswicker to get immunized against COVID-19. She says it was a piece of cake.
Everyone getting a dose from the first shipment is from a high-priority group, which includes long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers and seniors 85 or older.
The province's strategy is to vaccinate New Brunswickers from the oldest to the youngest.
Jan. 17, 2021: Record daily high of cases
New Brunswick reports 36 new infections, the highest number of cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic.
Many of the cases identified are at the Nadeau Poultry plant in Haut-Madawaska, west of Edmundston.
Jan. 22, 2021: Edmundston region lockdown
The Edmundston region, Zone 4, will go into full lockdown Jan. 23 at midnight, amid climbing case numbers and a series of outbreaks, the chief medical officer of health announces.
The evolution of the pandemic in the region is "extremely worrying," says Dr. Jennifer Russell, with the highest active case count in the province at 129 and cases reported in schools, workplaces and residences for the elderly.
"At the current rate, that number will exceed 200 active cases early next week and potentially 400 active cases before the month is over," she said.
Businesses are told to close or reduce operations to essential activities. Residents are told to stay home and keep to their one-household bubbles.
The next day, Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton are also bumped back to the most restrictive red COVID alert level.
New Brunswick has now recorded 1,087 confirmed COVID cases and 13 people have died.
Feb. 2, 2021: Variant first reported in U.K. detected
The dreaded COVID-19 variants arrive in New Brunswick. Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, confirms three cases of the variant first reported in the U.K., now referred to as the alpha variant. Two are in the Saint John region, one in the Miramichi region.
Two of the cases are related to international travel and one is related to travel in Canada. All three individuals are self-isolating.
"It is a very fast-moving strain, it infects quickly and in higher numbers, and it will be difficult to get ahead of it," Russell says.
April 26, 2021: Variant first recorded in India confirmed
A case of COVID-19 previously reported in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, is confirmed as the more aggressive variant first recorded in India, now known as the delta variant.
All variants of concern are highly contagious, cause more severe symptoms, require more people to be hospitalized, result in more ICU admissions and ventilation, and cause more deaths.
But this variant has two mutations that make it "more concerning than all the others," says Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Public Health declares an outbreak at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton after six cases are confirmed at Magee House, an apartment-style residence with 101 units for mature students, some of whom have children.
The outbreak involves the delta variant.
The lockdown extends to St. Thomas University and the New Brunswick Community College because of the potential for exposure.
May 5, 2021: AstraZeneca-linked death
The chief medical officer of health confirms the province's first death linked to the Astra-Zeneca-Oxford vaccine.
A person in their 60s died after developing blood clots following vaccination, says Dr. Jennifer Russell, declining to release other details.
This is the second serious case of adverse effects from the vaccine. Two other cases are under investigation.
Blood clots and low platelets are "a very rare side effect of this vaccine," Russell stresses.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says the risks of dying from COVID-19 are "far greater than the risks associated with receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine."
June 4, 2021: Charge against doctor dropped
The Crown drops a charge against the family doctor accused of breaking COVID-19 rules and being the source of an outbreak in Campbellton, 11 days before his trial was set to begin.
Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola was charged with violating the provincial Emergency Measures Act for failing to quarantine when he returned from Quebec, but the prosecutor says there is no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction.
His lawyers call on Premier Blaine Higgs for a third time to apologize. Higgs says he has nothing to apologize for.
June 11, 2021: Doctor plans to sue
Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola plans to sue the province and the RCMP, his lawyers announce.
The draft statement of claim alleges "institutional anti-Black systemic racism," abuse of power, negligence, defamation, malicious prosecution and a breach of the doctor's charter rights.
Premier Blaine Higgs, who is not named as a defendant, says he does not regret his comments.
He has challenged Nogla to waive his privacy rights so he can reveal what he says he knows about the doctor.
June 23, 2021: N.B.-N.S. border blockade
Tempers flare at the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border when the highway is blocked by dozens of protesters demonstrating against restrictions that require most travellers from New Brunswick to self-isolate upon arrival in Nova Scotia.
July 11, 2021: 50% of eligible population fully vaccinated
The vaccination campaign reaches a milestone. The COVID-19 dashboard shows 50.4 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 and older have received two doses of a vaccine. In other words, half the eligible population is now fully vaccinated.
July 23, 2021: Going green
Premier Blaine Higgs tells New Brunswickers the province is going green. Effective July 30 at 11:59 p.m., all remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted, regardless of whether the province meets vaccination targets.
No more masks in public spaces. No more limits on gatherings. No more checks at provincial borders.
With so few cases, vaccination rates so high, and no one in hospital, he says it's a tough sell to keep the emergency order in place.