It's official — the Atlantic bubble is coming back next month, confirmed New Brunswick's Health minister on Thursday.
Dorothy Shephard said "beginning April 19" residents of the four Atlantic provinces can travel within the region without having to self-isolate for 14 days.
"After a long year of living with COVID-19, a brighter future is only weeks away," said Shephard.
But only if we all stay vigilant and keep case numbers down.
The opening of the bubble is "conditional upon COVID-19 case numbers remaining low in the region, containment of outbreaks, and ongoing advice from Atlantic Chief Medical Officers of Health," according to a news release sent jointly by all four provinces.
And, as Premier Blaine Higgs indicated earlier this week, Newfoundland and Labrador's inclusion in the bubble is conditional and will depend on "continued progress in easing its provincial alert-level restrictions."
Exactly what the bubble will look like is still up in the air, said Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health.
She said Public Health officials are looking at how family and friends from other provinces will fit into the existing family and friends bubbles and whether those can be expanded.
Shephard said the province has a bit of time to sort out all of those details before the bubble begins.
"Now, as our case numbers begin to fall and our vaccination accelerates," said Russell on Thursday, "we can consider a gradual loosening of some of these travel restrictions."
Active case counts are certainly down from where they've been since the beginning of the year, but they're actually up over the last seven days — by 15 since March 12.
And of the 15 cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 10 are still considered active, said Russell.
Northern bubble also coming back
New Brunswick will also re-establish the travel bubble with Témiscouata, Avignon and Listuguj First Nation in Quebec by April 19. Residents from these communities must not have travelled outside those regions in the 14 days prior to coming to New Brunswick — or they must have received the first dose of the vaccine at least 14 days prior.
"While we all welcome the return of a travel bubble, it is important to remember that cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across Canada," said Russell.
"Coupled with the increase in cases of the variants we are seeing, that is cause for concern. If you are travelling, even within the bubble, please ensure you follow all Public Health directives so we can continue to limit the spread of the virus."
Russell said New Brunswick has been relatively successful at keeping case numbers down "in no small part" by controlling travel into the province. Of the province's nearly 1,500 cases, the majority of them "can be traced to infections that occurred outside New Brunswick."
In the last three and a half months, she said 111 individuals tested positive after returning from outside the province. Of those, 37 travelled for leisure, 22 were international students or temporary foreign workers, 16 were truck drivers, 15 were rotational workers, seven were daily commuters across the border, and 13 were for other reasons.
Those cases were, in turn, linked to at least 58 other positive cases, said Russell.
7 new cases
Public Health reported seven new cases Thursday, and they break down in this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1, one case:
An individual 20-29. The case is linked to a previous case and the person is self-isolating.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, one case:
An individual 30-39. This case is travel-related, and the person is self-isolating.
Edmundston region, Zone 4, five cases:
Two people 20-29
An individual 50-59
An individual 60-69
An individual 70-79
These cases are linked to previous cases and all of these people are self-isolating.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 1,484, and there are now 48 cases.
Since Wednesday, one person has recovered for a total of 1,405 recoveries There have been 30 deaths. One patient is hospitalized. A total of 243,016 tests have been done, including the 810 conducted since the last report.
Listuguj students returning to class
All high school students from Listuguj First Nation in Quebec will be able to return to Sugarloaf High School in Campbellton starting April 6.
Education Department spokesperson Flavio Nienow said the change is "subject to all pupils aged 16 and over in Listuguj being vaccinated by Friday."
"In the meantime, the blended mode — a mix of in-person learning and virtual learning — is still in effect."
At Thursday's public briefing, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province is "on track" to meet that target.
Beginning Thursday, everyone 80 and over, regulated health professionals — like dentists, physiotherapists and optometrists — who have close contact with patients, and people with complex medical conditions are eligible to receive vaccinations, Shephard announced.
Those 80 and older, or a caregiver or family member acting on their behalf, can now make an appointment with a pharmacy; regulated professions will be notified by their associations when they are eligible; and people with complex medical conditions are asked to review the list of select conditions included online before making an appointment.
Those who don't have access to the internet, can call 1-833-437-1424.
As of Wednesday, said Shephard, all residents of long-term care facilities have had the opportunity to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We are making excellent progress on our vaccination plan and have made great strides towards protecting our most vulnerable residents," said Shephard. "We are now able to begin providing the vaccine to more groups. However, if you are not in one of the eligible groups, please do not try to make an appointment at this time."
Rotational workers get break
As of Friday at midnight, rotational workers will no longer be required to self-isolate, as long as they've had a first dose and 14 days have passed.
Shephard said they must still have tests done on Day 5 and 10 after their return to New Brunswick.
If a rotational worker does not get vaccinated, she said they will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days, as will anyone else living in the same household, with a mandatory test on Day 10.
"Every traveller who enters New Brunswick comes with a level of risk," Shephard said. "Testing rotational workers will provide us with an extra layer of security and will allow us to track the virus."
Public Health has identified a potential public exposure at the following locations in Edmundston:
McDonald's Restaurant, 190 Hébert Blvd., on March 13 between 8:30 a.m. and 9:15 a.m.
Grey Rock Casino & Valley View Restaurant, 100 Chief Joanna Blvd., on March 14
Public Health has also identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious on March 7 while on the following flights:
Air Canada Flight 414 – from Toronto to Montreal, departed at 2:18 p.m.
Air Canada Flight 8906 – from Montreal to Moncton, departed at 7 p.m.
People who travelled on these flights should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after the flight. Should any COVID-19 symptoms develop, they are directed to self-isolate and take the self-assessment online or to call 811 to get tested.
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:
A fever above 38 C.
A 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.