N.B. brings in new controls after record count of 27 new COVID-19 cases in one day

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New Brunswick is bringing in a series of tighter restrictions on public and family gatherings after reporting 27 new COVID-19 cases, the province's highest single-day count since the pandemic began.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday the common thread in the recent outbreak has been citizens attending holiday gatherings and then going back to work carrying the virus.

The health officer said she fears the double-digit infection figures could continue as the fallout from New Year's Eve gatherings emerges.

Premier Blaine Higgs said during Tuesday's briefing that citizens must reduce social gatherings, be honest with public health officials and seek testing quickly for even mild symptoms.

Both Higgs and Russell warned there are risks the province's health system will be rapidly overwhelmed if residents don't respect the latest restrictions, including avoiding non-essential travel.

As of Tuesday, there were 89 people with COVID-19 in the province, a doubling of cases in six days.

“There is a risk that our health-care system could be faced with hundreds of new cases each day," Higgs said. "We must act swiftly and decisively to ensure that does not happen.”

The premier criticized people who have gone to work or social gatherings despite having symptoms of the illness.

"People who are symptomatic have been going to work. For example, one person exposed up to 150 others," he said.

"Some (people) have lied to contact tracers, slowing down and reducing the effectiveness of contact tracing and putting others at risk."

The Progressive Conservative leader was also critical of the Liberal federal government's rollout of vaccines, saying his province is eager to receive more doses.

"We are pushing the federal government to provide more COVID-19 vaccines to our province. We are ready to receive these vaccines and are prepared administer them as soon as they arrive," he said.

The premier said at the current level the province will not be able to vaccinate the majority of its population until the summer, adding that he believes health authorities could achieve the same result in 10 weeks if supplies became available.

Effective midnight Tuesday, the entire province was set to move to the so-called "orange" level of response to the pandemic, Russell told reporters during the afternoon briefing.

These requirements include restricting family gatherings to a single household "bubble," with exceptions for caregivers and for family members who provide support to other relatives, such as a parent who relies on visits from their adult child.

Only essential travel is recommended within the province, however, people can continue to travel for work, school, essential errands and medical appointments.

Masks are mandatory in indoor public places and in outdoor public spaces when physical distancing of two metres cannot be maintained.

Outdoor gatherings of 25 people or fewer are permitted with physical distancing.

Faith gatherings will have in-person services limited to 50 participants or fewer, depending on the size of the facility, with mask wearing and physical distancing required and no singing allowed.

Russell noted the illness was now present in all of the province's regions, including in long-term care homes in Saint John and in Moncton.

She said the Moderna vaccine is being rolled out to 20 long-term care facilities around the province, with 2,905 doses administered and the expectation of another 4,500 vaccinations occurring by next Monday, including 1,800 second doses.

— Story by Michael Tutton in Halifax.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2021.

The Canadian Press