More than half of New Brunswick moves to red level after more COVID cases reported

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FREDERICTON — More than half of New Brunswick was moved to the red level of the province's COVID-19 recovery plan as Premier Blaine Higgs warned Tuesday of even more severe measures if the spread of the virus doesn't slow.

Health officials reported one new death and 31 new COVID-19 cases in the province Tuesday, with 21 of them in the Edmundston region, which entered the red level Monday. The Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John zones were to join Edmundston as of midnight Tuesday.

At the red level, gyms, salons and recreational facilities must close, and restaurants can only offer takeout or delivery. Outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of five people, with masks and physical distancing.

"We have had some success in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus across our province, and we have succeeded because we acted swiftly and decisively," chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said Tuesday. "We haven't waited, as some other jurisdictions have done, until critical levels have been breached."

Russell called the increase in cases across the province this month alarming. "The threat it poses to our health-care system and the well-being of our citizens cannot be ignored," she said.

Russell said the death of a person in their 80s at the Parkland Saint John long-term care facility brings to 13 the number of COVID-related deaths in the province.

There are currently 316 active cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, and there have now been more than 1,000 cases since the pandemic began. Four hundred of those have been in the last 30 days.

Russell said many of the new cases were spread through large social gatherings, such as parties and holiday gatherings around Christmas and New Year's.

Higgs said the province will consider imposing more stringent measures if the latest restrictions don't limit the spread of the virus.

"We are not making enough progress with the current measures that are in place," he said. "We know there are more cases in these zones that exist but have not yet tested positive, and we cannot take the risk of potentially overwhelming our hospitals."

He said a continuing rise in case numbers could mean a return to a full lockdown as was in place in March, with schools closed and people staying home except to buy essential items.

Higgs said the all-party COVID cabinet committee would meet again Thursday to discuss next steps.

"Public health is currently working to determine exactly what a lockdown would look like if we need to take this additional step," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press