N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Higgs favours a federal emergency declaration to combat outbreak

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Higgs favours a federal emergency declaration to combat outbreak

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says he favours the federal government invoking the Emergencies Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He believes Canada needs a consistent, national approach to stop the spread of the virus, he said Monday, as the province's total reached 17 confirmed cases.

No new cases have been diagnosed since Saturday, when there were eight confirmed cases and nine presumptive cases. All of the cases are related to international travel or close contacts to a confirmed case that has travelled outside the province.

Triggering the act would give the federal government sweeping powers to regulate or prohibit travel, requisition and use property, order qualified people to provide essential services, regulate the distribution of goods, resources and services and establish emergency shelters and hospitals.

"I think we need standards across the country. I think that we need to have a consistency here," Higgs told reporters during the daily briefing in Fredericton.

"It helps with any sort of cross-border issues, but it starts to unify our approach as a nation."

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to follow public health guidelines on COVID-19, warning that stiff enforcement measures could be imposed if people don't stop engaging in behaviour that puts lives at risk.

"Enough is enough. Go home and stay home. This is what we all need to be doing, and we're going to make sure this happens, whether by educating people more on the risks, or by enforcing the rules, if that's needed. Nothing that could help is off the table," he said.

The Emergencies Act, which came into effect in 1988, replacing the War Measures Act, has never been invoked by the federal government.

Trudeau was expected to speak with the premiers Monday night to discuss steps going forward.

Higgs told reporters New Brunswick is considering following the lead of other provinces, such as neighbouring Nova Scotia and P.E.I., and directing anyone entering the province to self-isolate for 14 days — even if they're arriving from within Canada.

"I can see that happening here," the premier said.

He'd like to see some "alignment" across the country though, and expected to raise the issue during the call with Trudeau.

Wants provincial border plan with impact

"The point I want to make very clear is that I'm not waiting for the federal government to do anything that I feel is absolutely necessary at this point in time," Higgs said. "I haven't to this point and I won't going forward. However, I want to know that whatever we put in place at the borders is actually effective.

"If I have a police car sitting at the Quebec-New Brunswick border … what are they going to do? What assessment are they going to make on individuals crossing the border? And how do we follow up?

"You say, 'OK, you've got to go self isolate.' How do we manage that, record that?" he asked.

"If we're putting a procedure in place, I want to know the procedure is actually going to have an impact. It's not for visual, it's for impact."

Checkpoints into N.S. and P.E.I.

In Nova Scotia, checkpoints have sprung up at every major entry point into the province, including highways, airports and ferry terminals.

Provincial staff are telling travellers to self-isolate for 14 days, no matter where they're coming from. Those who fail to obey the isolation order could be fined $1,000 per day. Some travellers are exempt, including truckers, medical staff and other essential personnel.

Brett Ruskin/CBC

P.E.I. has screening checkpoints set up at the Confederation Bridge, Charlottetown airport and Souris ferry terminal.

The province also announced a strict fine structure Monday for those found to be in violation of the self-isolation orders. Fines start at $1,000 for the first offence, $2,000 for the second offence and $10,000 for the third and subsequent offences.

U.S. border entries down 90%

New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said she discussed over the weekend with her Public Health team and with colleagues in other provinces the idea of a 14-day isolation for anyone entering the province.

Asked whether she thinks it would be a good idea, she said she'll have more information to share on the topic on Tuesday.

Russell told reporters it's "very likely" that in coming days and weeks she will have to share sad news about people becoming seriously ill, people being hospitalized and people dying.

U.S. border crossings into New Brunswick have dropped 90 per cent since federal restrictions on all non-essential travel at the Canada-U.S. border took effect Friday at midnight, according to the premier. The restrictions are expected to remain in effect for at least 30 days.

Here is a roundup of other developments.

Some businesses not closing   

The Department of Public Safety has been checking businesses across the province to see if they're complying to last week's recommendations from Public Health to close.

Of the 762 businesses checked so far, 43 were not, which is a 94 per cent compliance rate, but only 100 per cent will do, said Higgs.

Those businesses would "absolutely" be checked on again later today, he said.

"Either they have to shut down or they have to change their practices, depending on the business."

Higgs said some business owners have taken "liberty" to define what kind of business they operate.

Maria Burgos/CBC News

He cited as an example a business with a pop machine and chips claiming to be a grocery store or convenience store. 

"No one wants to make this law an enforcement matter with charges and fines, but we are ready to do so. And if that's what's needed for compliance, we will act," Higgs said.

"We are especially concerned with businesses operating despite the order and with individuals who are required to self-isolate who are not doing it."

The fines could be in the "thousands," he added.

No need to send tests to Winnipeg

According to the government website, 1,079 tests have come back negative to date.

The lab at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton will now be able to provide "confirmatory" results within 24 to 48 hours of testing a patient, without the necessity of sending the tests to the national lab in Winnipeg, said Russell.

CBC

This will speed up the testing and confirmation process in the province by a "day or so," she said.

The province will now announce only positive and negative test results, without the need for a presumptive category, she added.

Russell and Higgs did not hold a news conference to update the public on the COVID-19 outbreak on Sunday.

Call or email about non-compliance 

The government has set up a toll-free information line and email address, which offers services in both English and French, to answer non-health related questions, including questions about non-compliance with the state of emergency.

The phone line and email were supposed to be available on Sunday but the start day was moved to Monday.

The number, 1-844-462-8387, is operational seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The email address is helpaide@gnb.ca.

Higgs previously described the phone line and email as being for people seeking advice on how to help family members and neighbours comply with the state of emergency orders.

Concerns about workplace safety should continue to be directed to WorkSafeNB, he said.

Positive P.E.I. woman was in Moncton

Meanwhile, a woman in her 20s who flew from Toronto to Moncton on March 16 has tested positive for the virus.

It was the WestJet 3456 flight, which departed from Toronto at 8:35 a.m. and arrived in Moncton at 12:05 p.m.

P.E.I. now has three confirmed cases. All people who were on that flight have been asked to self-isolate for two weeks.

Shelters prepare for spike in domestic violence

Many people in New Brunswick are hunkering down and staying safe inside their homes.

For some, staying inside the home isn't safe.

"We see a lot of people talking right now about the pandemic and how we're really fortunate that we have homes to be in, and that we have the basic necessities of life, but for victims it's a prison," said Kristal LeBlanc, executive director at the Beausejour Family Crisis Resource.

Photo: Mike Heenan/CBC

Domestic violence centres are adjusting their approach to helping survivors of domestic abuse by offering services over the phone or through texting. 

Advocacy groups are warning the number of assaults could rise during the pandemic, and shelters are preparing for an increase in demand. 

Since many shelters rely on fundraising events, which have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, LeBlanc is worried about having enough money to meet an increased demand. 

For those experiencing domestic violence, LeBlanc recommends finding a safe space in the home and using their phone to reach out to the local domestic violence shelter.

Guards posted at some open stores

Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News

Stores like Costco and Shoppers Drug Mart in Fredericton have security guards standing outside, limiting the number of people inside at one time.

Customers are asked to wait outside and wait their turn. 

Staying inside could ward off stiffer rules

Emergency measures organizations across the province are reminding people to physically keep their distance from others. 

Conrad Landry, the incident commander for Moncton's Emergency Measures Organization, said he feels most residents are heeding government 's call to stay indoors. 

"Today is going to be the biggest test," Landry said. 

"We don't want to go to the level of starting to report people and sending the police and giving fines and charges."

New Brunswick has not yet instituted a curfew or a ban on going for a walk outside, as other cities and countries have.  

Filing court documents

The Court of Queen's Bench is making changes to how it accepts filing documents for cases during COVID-19. 

Documents can be sent by mail, courier, fax, electronic filing by email, or by leaving the documents in a secure box at the courthouse. 

All payments must be made by credit card by calling the office. 

Anyone having to file petitions or applications for divorce and actions related to it and bankruptcy documents will also have to follow the same guidelines or leave the documents in a secured box at the justice building in Fredericton. 

Tracey K. DeWare, chief justice of the Court of Queen's Bench, said the processing of court documents may take longer than usual because the courts are operating with a reduced staff.

The change is effective immediately.

The court had already postponed all jury trials because of the outbreak.

What to do if you have any symptoms?

Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough or breathlessness. In this case, residents should:

  • Stay at home.
  • Immediately call Tele-Care 811.

  • Describe symptoms and travel history.

  • Follow instructions carefully.

Remember the self-assessment tool

A new link that offers a COVID-19 self-assessment tool has been added to the Department of Health's website.

The assessment tool has three parts with different coloured flags for the degree of symptoms: 

  • Red: Need help now
  • Yellow:  Need help soon
  • Green: You can do the care at home. 

Each category asks you to respond to a series of self-assessment questions and then act based on the answers. This will help New Brunswickers determine if they should call the 811 line. This will also help reduce the volume of calls.