The reopening of the Atlantic bubble has been postponed until at least May 3 over concerns about a surge in new cases of COVID-19.
In a news release Tuesday afternoon, the Council of Atlantic Premiers announced the decision was made given the spike in new cases and the emergence of more transmissible forms of the virus.
"Given the recent surge in cases of COVID-19 in parts of Atlantic Canada and the emergence of more transmissible forms of the virus, the Council of Atlantic Premiers has agreed to delay the reopening of the Atlantic Bubble by at least two weeks, to May 3rd, 2021," says the release.
"The decision is based upon expert advice from the region's Chief Medical Officers of Health."
The release said the relaxation of travel restrictions will be "closely monitored" and may change at any time based on public health advice regarding conditions in the region.
Premier Blaine Higgs repeated this later in an interview on Power & Politics, saying a May opening is not guaranteed.
The bubble, which would allow travel among the four Atlantic Canadian provinces without the need to self-isolate, was originally supposed to open on April 19,
But on Tuesday morning, Higgs was already casting doubt on that happening, citing the growing number of variant cases.
Speaking to reporters prior to the latest announcement, Higgs said he was keen on seeing the bubble reopen, but added there would be risks associated with it.
"If we mitigate that with vaccines, that makes it more secure for us to open," Higgs said.
The postponement of the bubble also came after Nova Scotia, Premier Iain Rankin announced earlier Tuesday that travellers from New Brunswick will once again have to self-isolate for 14 days when they enter Nova Scotia.
'Not writing off summer'
As for the when borders could open up to the rest of Canada, Higgs said early July is still the goal.
"I don't think that's in jeopardy at this point," Higgs said Tuesday.
However, he cautioned, that will very much depend on vaccines rolling out as planned, and "on us reaching that 75 per cent [of the population vaccinated] level."
"We are short on vaccines, there's no question about it."
As well, Higgs noted, "we are seeing some major outbreaks in other provinces, and that all weighs into it too, of course."
"But I'm not writing off summer, because so many people are depending on us to be in a position to travel freely again in our province and in our country … So I'm pushing for that too."
4 new cases reported
Public Health reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, affecting two zones.
The cases break down in this way:
Saint John region, Zone 2, one case:
An individual 60 to 69
Edmundston region, Zone 4, three cases:
Two people 20 to 29
An individual 40 to 49
All four people are contacts of previously confirmed cases.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 1,736. Since Monday, 17 people have recovered for a total of 1,570 recoveries. There have been 33 deaths, and the number of active cases is 132. Eighteen patients are hospitalized, including 13 in intensive care.
A total of 269,256 tests have been conducted, including 1,160 since Monday's report.
Higgs urges truck drivers to get vaccinated
Premier Blaine Higgs says it's "very important" to get all rotational workers and truck drivers vaccinated to reduce New Brunswick's vulnerability at the border.
But only 800 out of 3,000 truck drivers in the province have been vaccinated more than two weeks after the group was allowed to book vaccination appointments, Higgs said Tuesday.
"I will put an urge out to drivers right now," he said. "We need their help."
According to the premier, vaccines have been set aside for the drivers, but pharmacies are using them on others because not enough drivers are booking appointments.
During the first week, only 100 drivers in New Brunswick received their first dose.
WATCH | Higgs said with only 800 out of 3,000 truck drivers vaccinated in New Brunswick, the province is at risk
"That's a risk to us right now," said Higgs.
Jean-Marc Picard, the executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, said it's not a simple task for truck drivers to book appointments when they're travelling all week.
"They leave at 5 a.m. or 4 a.m. They're gone most of the week. They only have a two-day window to have an appointment."
Picard also said part of truckers' response has to do with vaccine hesitancy.
"We're going to see that from all corners of the province, but I know there are some truck drivers that won't get it, and it is their choice."
The trucking association suggested Public Health set up portable vaccine stations at specific scales with a lot of traffic.
The idea would be similar to the COVID-19 testing station that was set up at the Saint-Jacques at the Quebec-New Brunswick border last summer, which was quite successful, according to Picard.
"I think this would help them with the numbers that they're looking for."
The association was to have a call with Public Health on Tuesday night to discuss this plan's viability.
About 175 trucking companies are part of the association and of these, 60 per cent are in New Brunswick.
Cardy apologizes for last-minute decision to halt in-person classes
New Brunswick's education minister says he's pleased with Public Health's decision to halt the return to full-time classes for high school students, despite the short notice.
Public Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced the delay Saturday afternoon — just two days before daily, in-person classes were to resume. She said the decision was made as a precaution.
"We've got to protect the health and safety of students and staff," Education Minister Dominic Cardy said Tuesday.
He apologized for the last-minute change of plans, which caught teachers, staff and parents by surprise. The decision was also a difficult one for government officials to make, he said.
"Having a last-minute change like this, even if I think it was absolutely the right thing to do, having it happen at the last minute causes a lot of stress."
He said the decision was reversed because the all-party COVID cabinet committee was concerned about COVID-19 case numbers going up in northwestern New Brunswick, and hundreds of thousands of students and staff who could become vulnerable to the variant first reported in the United Kingdom but now in the province.
"The decision making around these tables is always complicated and you're always trying to balance hundreds of different pieces of information," he said.
Cardy said he couldn't provide specific details about the decision to postpone classes in cabinet and the all-party COVID cabinet committee, citing confidentiality concerns.
"I can say I am really happy we are sticking with the blended system at least for a few more weeks," he said.
Last week Cardy received a message on Twitter, asking why high schools were opening on Monday, given the COVID-19 situation. He responded by saying it was a strong recommendation by Public Health to resume classes.
"Please contact them to share your concerns. I have," he said.
On Tuesday, Cardy told Information Morning Fredericton, said he couldn't share what he was discussing with Public Health.
He did say, Public Health previously felt the province was in a situation to return to classes full time, and there were concerns about the impact on students' mental under the current, alternating-days arrangement. Some students are not having a positive educational experience.
"It's always a balance from Public Health's side and anyone else's side," he said.
Cardy said the decision for high school students to return to in-person classes full time will be made the last week of April.
"The best thing to do was to leave high schools alone for at least a few more weeks," he said.
Cardy wouldn't say whether he favoured students staying home for the remainder of the school year, but he expected a shift back to full-time classes would be a challenge.
"I'm very comfortable that students are at home and very happy that that extra layer of risk hasn't been added to the province's efforts to fight back against COVID."
A 'new era' of COVID-19
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, said residents need to prepare for a new era of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has been an uptick of the UK variant confirmed across New Brunswick and the province announced two new cases of the South African variant in the Saint John region on Monday.
Since two cases were properly self-isolating, Russell is hopeful those particular cases won't spread.
Because of the variants, Russell said contact tracing will be 72 hours in advance of a person showing symptoms of COVID-19 instead of 48 hours.
"We really need people to get tested even if you have really mild symptoms."
Variants increase in translatability, severe symptoms, reinfections and mortality.
"You can pretty much lump them all together," she said. "They're all very concerning."
Although vaccines aren't 100 per cent effective, she said it's important for more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine to prevent more hospitalizations.
More people in their 20s, 30s and 40s are getting the variant.
Right now, Russell said the province can absorb more COVID-19 patients, but Public Health is trying to avoid that as much as possible.
"Just that heightened worry on a constant basis is very draining," she said.
10 new cases reported Monday
Ten new cases were reported Monday, affecting two zones in New Brunswick. The presence of the variant first detected in South Africa was also confirmed.
The number of confirmed COVID cases during the pandemic is 1,732. Since Sunday, 13 people had recovered for a total of 1,553 recoveries.
There have been 33 deaths
The number of active cases is 145. Eighteen patients are hospitalized, including 13 in an intensive care unit.
A total of 268,096 tests have been conducted, including 737 since Sunday's report.
The number of people who've received at least one dose of a vaccine is 136,494 — more than 20 per cent of those eligible. These doses include 625 administered since Sunday, according to the province's dashboard published Monday afternoon.
More possible exposures
April 8 and 9, National Bank, (111 de l'Église St., Edmundston)
April 9 between 12:00 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – Shoppers Drug Mart (160 Hébert Blvd., Edmundston)
April 8 between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., April 7 between 6:30 a.m and 7:00 a.m., and April 6 between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. – Tim Hortons (262 Isidore-Boucher Blvd., St-Jacques)
April 7 between after 6:00 p.m., April 6 after 6:00 p.m. – Epicerie Chez ti-Marc (256 Isidore-Boucher Blvd., St-Jacques)
April 7 between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., and April 6 between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. – Dollarama (787 Victoria St., Edmundston)
April 7 between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., and April 6 between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. – NB Liquor, (575 Victoria St., Edmundston)
April 7 between 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. – Jean Coutu (177 Victoria St., Edmundston)
April 7 between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. – Subway (180 Hébert Blvd., Edmundston)
April 7 between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. – Atlantic Superstore (577 Victoria St., Edmundston)
April 6 between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston)
March 26 to April 8 – Napa Auto Parts - (260 Canada St., Edmundston)
March 20 to April 9, Atlantic Superstore (577 Victoria St., Edmundston)
April 5 at 11 a.m. – Shoppers Drug Mart (160 Hébert Blvd., Edmundston)
April 1 – Royal Bank (48 Saint-François St., Edmundston)
March 31 between 12 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston)
March 30 between 12 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston)
March 29 between 8:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston)
April 8 between 4:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. – COSTCO Wholesale customer service (140 Granite Drive, Moncton)
April 6 between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. – YMCA Vaughan Harvey, (30 War Veterans Ave., Moncton)
April 4 between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. – Moncton Wesleyan Church (945 St. George Blvd., Moncton)
April 3 between 8:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. – Kelseys Original Roadhouse (141 Trinity Dr., Moncton)
April 1 between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m., April 3 between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m., April 6 between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m., April 8 between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. – CF Champlain (477 Paul St., Dieppe)
March 31 – Murray's Irving Big Stop (198 Beardsley Rd., Beardsley)
Saint John region:
April 9 between 2:10 p.m. and 2:40 p.m., GAP Factory East Point, (15 Fashion Dr., Saint John)
April 9 between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. – McAllister Place, 519 Westmorland Rd., Saint John
April 8 between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m., – McAllister Place, 519 Westmorland Rd., Saint John
April 8 between 1:15 p.m. and 2 p.m. – Service New Brunswick, 15 King Square North, Saint John
April 1 between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. – YMCA of Greater Saint John (191 Churchill Blvd., Saint John)
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included:
Fever above 38 C.
New cough or worsening chronic cough.
New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should:
Stay at home.
Call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor.
Describe symptoms and travel history.