Shops and restaurants in the Grand Falls area were struggling to stay afloat after weeks of lockdown restrictions earlier this year.
Now, with red phase restrictions extended to the area, business owners are left grappling with more closures and reduced operations — right before a typically busy Easter weekend.
Gilles Beaulieu, general manager of the Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the announcement of tighter restrictions on Monday came as a surprise for him.
"It's disgusting, everybody's tired of this," he said.
Under the red phase restaurants must switch to takeout only, while gyms, barbers and hairstylists are required to close.
An increase in cases sent Edmundston and the Upper Madawaska region into a "circuit-breaker" red phase last week. On Monday, those restrictions were expanded to most of Zone 4, including Saint-Léonard, Grand Falls, Drummond, New Denmark and Four Falls
"It feels like a ghost town." - Gilles Beaulieu, Valley Chamber of Commerce
The Saint-Quentin and Kedgwick region remains in the yellow phase along with the rest of the province.
There are more than 100 active cases in Zone 4, which spans across the province's northwest from the Grand Falls area to the Quebec border.
Edmundston remains hotspot
Grand Falls Mayor Marcel Deschênes said he's only aware of a few cases in his community.
"It's always a surprise when you're going into the red zone," he said. "We did not feel that it did warrant it, but we don't have all of the information and we need to rely on Public Health with the information they do have."
Potential public exposure to the virus has been reported at businesses in Grand Falls, about a 40 minute drive south of Edmundston in Victoria County.
Deschênes said he was told by Public Health the measures were needed with the presence of the COVID-19 variant. He's encouraging residents to follow the guidelines.
"I don't see much exposure out of the Grand Falls area right now," he said, "We just hope that this continues and we can move into the yellow phase in due course."
Edmundston Mayor Eric Marquis said he's hoping the circuit-breaker will quickly stabilize the situation and prevent community spread. It is expected to stay in place until after Easter weekend.
"Mostly the cases are here in Edmundston, that is a fact," Marquis said.
Public vaccine clinics began Thursday and appointments have quickly filled. More than 3,000 doses are available in the area.
'Feels like a ghost town'
After the sudden move to the red phase, the downtown boulevard in Grand Falls has turned quiet as people stay home.
"It feels like a ghost town," Beaulieu said.
The chamber of commerce has members across the Grand Falls region, including Saint-Léonard, Saint-André and Drummond.
Most were forced to completely close for weeks during a "devastating" Zone 4 lockdown earlier this year.
"It's going to take quite a while to recover from these financial difficulties," he said. "Even some of them will have to close for good."
Under the red phase, restaurants can operate with takeout, drive-thrus or delivery only. Barbers, stylists and personal services must close, along with gyms and fitness facilities.
Residents are also required to maintain a single-household bubble and wear masks in outdoor public places.
Beaulieu said he's trying to encourage the community to keep supporting local businesses.
"They're not even starting to recover, they're having a hard time keeping both ends together," he said.