Newfoundland and Labrador is once again free of COVID-19, with the three cases that were active as of Tuesday having recovered, and no new cases reported Wednesday.
The province has gone 10 days without a new case of COVID-19. Newfoundland and Labrador's total caseload remains 266, with the number of recoveries now 263. There have been three deaths.
As of Wednesday, 26,010 people have been tested across the province — 236 since yesterday's update.
At Wednesday's weekly briefing, Health Minister John Haggie said that while Newfoundland and Labrador is back down to zero active cases, it's important to remember the world is still in the middle of a pandemic.
"If you look at what was our holiday weekend, between Friday and Monday the global count of COVID cases increased by one million in simply four days due mainly to Brazil, the United States and Italy," said Haggie. [Note: while the global caseload continues to rise, Italy's numbers represent a small fraction of the worldwide increase. From Friday through Monday, the number of U.S. cases rose by more than 222,000, while Brazil's went up by more than 140,000. Italy's caseload, however, saw fewer than 1,100 new cases — that's fewer than Canada, which saw more than 1,200 in the same time period.]
"The general consensus is that this may be a way of life for us until the end of 2021 and possibly even a little bit longer. Even under ideal circumstances a vaccine is still between 12 and 18 months away."
Watch the full Aug. 5 update:
Haggie — conducting the weekly briefing on his own, with Andrew Furey having been named premier-designate Monday to replace the outgoing Dwight Ball — said there may be an announcement within the next four weeks on when Newfoundland and Labrador will move to Alert Level 1. The province has been in Alert Level 2 since June 25.
Haggie said the change in level could help remove some inconsistencies in public health regulations and recommendations.
"A move to Level 1 would allow us to look at apparent inconsistencies in event sizes and sizes of gatherings, and again this is a discussion within public health," he said.
Contact tracing app
In previous briefings Haggie said Newfoundland and Labrador was developing its own COVID-19 contact tracing app, which was expected to come online at some point in June.
With the federal government's recent launch of its own app, Newfoundland and Labrador's plans have shifted, according to Haggie.
"As we had begun to develop our own it became apparent that the feds had this particular version that they wanted to be used, and it could be flavoured to some degree locally," he said.
People in Newfoundland and Labrador can download the app but cannot yet use it to report exposure to COVID-19. Haggie said that functionality could be three or four weeks away.
It will be at least another week before the new leader of the provincial government takes a seat at the COVID-19 briefing table.
Furey, a medical doctor himself, has been getting accustomed to government business since winning the Liberal leadership on Monday, but has yet to be officially sworn in as the premier of the province.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, also sat out Wednesday's update.
Ball made his final appearance as premier of the province during last week's briefing, and parted with presents for Fitzgerald. The two were a fixture throughout the pandemic, appearing alongside each other at the daily and weekly updates.
Fitzgerald was in court on Wednesday to deal with the matter of the ongoing suit against the province over its travel ban which was implemented in May.
When asked if the province had a back up plan — for if it is forced to reopen its borders — Haggie said the province would have to study the court's decision first and would not speculate on what the next step could be.
"One of things that has become apparent is the degree of flexibility within public health and communicable disease specialists in terms of responding rapidly to a changing environment, whether that's due to the disease, or due to court decisions or other external features," Haggie said.
"I'm confident the staff would be able to craft something if we need to."