New Brunswick reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and the rate of vaccinations in the province continues to slow with just 5,583 doses added to the COVID-19 dashboard.
That includes 4,539 second doses and 1,044 first doses, putting the two-dose vaccination rate at 65.4 per cent and one-dose at 81.7.
The province is set to lift all pandemic restrictions, including mandatory masks, gathering limits and provincial border checks for travellers within Canada, Friday at 11:59 p.m., regardless of whether it meets its vaccination target to have 75 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 and older fully vaccinated.
A week ago, the seven-day average for second doses administered was 7,098, said Oliver Dueck, a software developer based in Fredericton, who has been tracking the province's vaccine data for the past few months.
Two weeks ago, it was 9,870.
Now it stands at 4,661, he said.
At the current pace, Dueck projects the province won't reach its original goal to have three quarters of the eligible population double-dosed until Aug. 11 — nine days after its initial target and 12 days after it moves to the green phase of COVID recovery.
In a statement, Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, urged people to roll up their sleeves.
"As we are days away from going fully green, getting vaccinated should continue to be a priority," she said.
"Thousands of first and second dose Pfizer and Moderna appointments are available across the province. If you are eligible and have not made an appointment, please do so as soon as possible.
"By getting vaccinated, you are helping to protect yourself, your family and friends. You are also doing your part to keep our health-care system from becoming overwhelmed."
Mobile walk-in Moderna clinics are being held across the province to help make getting vaccinated more convenient and accessible. One is slated for Juniper on Wednesday at the Juniper Recreation Centre, 6840 Route 107, between noon and 4 p.m. AT.
Other clinics accepting walk-ins Wednesday include:
Miramichi, Miramichi Exhibition Building, 9 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. (18 years and older-Moderna).
Saint John, Exhibition Park, | 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (18 years and older-Moderna).
Saint John, St. Mark's Church, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. (18 years and older-AstraZeneca).
Anyone 12 or older is eligible to receive a first dose and they can receive a second shot 28 days after their first.
People are asked to bring their medicare card, a signed consent form, and their record of vaccination if they're receiving their second dose.
8 active cases
The two new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Wednesday are in the Moncton region, Zone 1. They include a person in their 30s and a person in their 50s.
One case is travel-related and the other one is under investigation, said Public Health.
The number of active cases in the province now stands at eight.
No one is hospitalized with the respiratory disease.
There have been 2,354 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province since the pandemic began, with 2,299 recoveries so far and 46 COVID-related deaths.
A total of 379,119 COVID tests have been conducted, including 597 on Tuesday.
COVID-19 updates after province enters green phase
Once the province enters the green phase, the government will no longer be posting news releases regarding COVID-19 regularly on weekdays, but only "as required due to developments," Public Health announced Wednesday.
Updates on the number of cases, vaccination rates and certain other information will, however, continue to be available Monday to Friday, excluding holidays, on the COVID-19 dashboard, it said.
Workplaces encouraged to keep some COVID measures
WorkSafeNB is encouraging workplaces to maintain some of their COVID-19 measures, even after the province goes green.
The Crown corporation says COVID-19 will continue to circulate, along with other communicable diseases, such as the flu, and that variants remain a threat.
"As an employer, you must take every reasonable precaution to keep your workplace healthy and safe," it said in a statement.
Although workplaces will no longer require their COVID-19 operational plans, WorkSafeNB said they should consider their risk factors.
"We recommend you keep some of your current operational plan protocols, especially those that do not negatively impact operations," such as barriers already erected or directional signage to reduce points of congestion.
"This can help reduce anxiety by staff or clients/visitors during the transition and in periods of higher risk," it said.
Workplaces must be prepared to implement additional measures when the risk of communicable disease in their region or workplace is elevated, it added.
With the province moving to the green phase of COVID-19 recovery, Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton will be removing mandatory bus restrictions, "while ensuring that transit remains safe and sanitary for both employees and passengers," according to a news release.
As of Saturday morning, masks will no longer be required on Saint John Transit, Fredericton Transit and Codiac Transpo buses and occupancy restrictions will no longer be in effect, with full seating and standing permitted, the release said.
Hand sanitizer will continue to be available upon boarding.
Use of one-directional entrance and exit doors will be "encouraged," but will no longer be required.
The buses will continue to be sanitized daily until at least the end of the year.
Capital announces reopening plans
The City of Fredericton says masks will no longer be required in municipal facilities as of Saturday morning, once the province goes green.
"The public may choose to wear a mask and the City respects this choice," it said in a news release.
Masking, distancing, contact tracing and hand sanitizing will no longer be required when people visit a municipal recreational facility or take part in any municipal programs or events.
People will be able to drop-in again for public swimming, public skating and to use the indoor tracks.
At municipal outdoor pools and the Fredericton Indoor Pool, swim capacities will increase, and at the Wilmot Park Splash Pad, hours of operation will increase (from 10 a.m. to dusk daily) without capacity limits.
Among some of the other changes, all regular council, council-in-committee and standing committee meetings will return to being held in-person, effective Aug. 9.
Full capacity for all Sea Dogs pre-season home games
All four of the Saint John Sea Dogs' pre-season home games being held in Fredericton will be at full capacity, the University of New Brunswick's Aitken Centre has announced.
Officials originally said the Aitken Centre would operate with reduced seating for the August games because of COVID-19 restrictions, with a reassessment before the September games.
But with the province moving into the green phase, the facility will be allowed to open every seat.
"Be prepared to have someone sitting beside you," Nick Zildjan, the marketing and special events manager for the UNB REDS, said in a statement. "That might be someone you don't know, that hasn't been part of your bubble or unit through the pandemic."
Masks will still be required when entering and moving throughout the Aitken Centre, and while seated, except while consuming food or beverages. UNB is working to have concessions available.
Even in the green phase, ticket holders will be asked to respect physical distancing as much as possible while inside the facility, the release said.
The Sea Dogs will host the Moncton Wildcats on Aug. 19 and Sept. 10, the Charlottetown Islanders on Aug. 25, and the Acadie–Bathurst Titan on Sept. 18. Tickets are available online, through the REDS website, www.goredsgo.ca, and in person, at the Aitken Centre box office.
The team needed a temporary location for its exhibition schedule because renovations are expected to begin soon at Saint John's TD Station.
Professor optimistic of mixed vaccines travel solution
A professor in microbiology at York University in Toronto is optimistic governments will reach an agreement on mixed COVID-19 vaccine doses to allow international travel.
Dasantila Golemi-Kotra said scientific evidence was behind the National Advisory Committee on Immunization's (NACI) recommendation in June to mix vaccines, particularly to follow a dose of AstraZeneca-Oxford with an mRNA vaccine, such as Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.
"There were studies that came from U.K., Germany and Portugal," she told CBC's Information Morning Moncton.
But Canadians who are fully vaccinated cannot travel to some countries because they received two different vaccines. Mixed doses are not recognized as fully protected in some parts of the world.
Several cruise lines have also said they won't accept customers who have mixed vaccines.
The federal and provincial governments are now searching for solutions.
Earlier this week, the Quebec government announced it's offering an extra dose of an mRNA vaccine to those who received two doses of AstraZeneca or a dose of AstraZeneca and a dose of either Pfizer or Moderna if the country they're travelling to doesn't recognize their vaccination status.
Quebec health officials warned it's up to the recipient, however, to weigh the potential risks before getting a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
That has Golemi-Kotra "a bit concerned."
There is no data yet on taking a third dose, she said. Although there are ongoing studies regarding boosters, there is nothing about taking a third dose for the purpose of matching two out of three vaccines.
"When do you take the third dose? After the two weeks of the second dose, or four weeks, or eight weeks? Is it safe to do so? And the burden will be on the physicians where they don't have anything to sort of fall on to base their decision on," said Golemi-Kotra.
"And, in addition, it may fuel [the] anti-vaccine campaign in terms of, you know, selling this as governments taking decisions as they go without much science behind it."
They have to look to solutions, one of them being speaking to WHO. - Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, microbiology professor
New Brunswick does not plan to follow Quebec's lead, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer has said. The province is waiting on the work the federal government is doing with the international community "to make sure that people who are fully vaccinated in ways that Canadians recognize as safe and effective are also recognized around the world," Russell said.
Asked whether there was any responsibility on NACI's part to look at what was happening with vaccines elsewhere in the world and anticipate travel problems for Canadians with mixed doses, Golemi-Kotra, who received Pfizer and Moderna, said it was a good but difficult question.
"I don't think these issues were thought [of] at the time," she said.
The priority was to get people as vaccinated as soon as possible, especially with the alpha variant being as transmissible as it is, and a new wave of variants coming, including the delta variant.
Now that people have done their part by following NACI's recommendation to mix vaccines and received both doses, protecting themselves and those around them, Golemi-Kotra contends the federal government does have a responsibility to ensure they are recognized as fully vaccinated elsewhere.
"They have to look to solutions, one of them being speaking to WH0, which is the World Health Organization, that many, especially developing countries, actually take the cues from when it comes to health crises, but other health situations as well," she said.
"There is evidence, especially when it comes to AstraZeneca and [mRNA] vaccine mixing, that it is safe to do so and it shouldn't take too much … time for WHO to arrive to that conclusion using that evidence."
She hopes Canada will serve as a leader on the discussion and that other governments will "come together."
"This is not something that sort of only one country benefits out [of]," she said. "All of us, all countries will benefit out of accepting what is sort of safe to do in terms of vaccine mixing."
Atlantic COVID roundup
Nova Scotia reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and has nine active cases.
Newfoundland and Labrador has no new cases and two active cases, both connected to previously anchored ships. The Princess Santa Joana, which had more than 30 people aboard test positive, left the waters of Conception Bay on Wednesday with all crew now recovered, except for the one still in hospital. A crew member from the Santa Cristina, which left Bay Bulls last week, is also in hospital.
Prince Edward Island has no active cases of COVID-19.
Possible COVID exposure
Public Health has identified a possible exposure to COVID-19. Someone who tested positive may have been infectious while travelling on the following WestJet flights on July 19:
Flight 3461 – from Ottawa to Toronto, departed at 10 a.m.
Flight 3404 – from Toronto to Fredericton, departed at 3:40 p.m.
People who travelled on these flights should self-monitor for symptoms, and if any develop, should self-isolate and take the self-assessment online or call Tele-Care 811 to get tested.
A detailed list of potential exposures, including the locations and dates, is available on the government's COVID-19 website. It is updated regularly.
Public Health offers COVID-19 testing to anyone who has been in a public exposure area, even if they are not experiencing any symptoms.
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms of the illness have included a fever above 38 C, a new or worsening cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, a new onset of fatigue, and difficulty breathing.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should stay at home, call 811 or their doctor and follow instructions.