The dreaded variants have arrived in New Brunswick.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, made the announcement at a live-streamed COVID-19 update Tuesday afternoon, noting there are three confirmed cases of coronavirus variants in the province.
On Friday, Russell and Health Minister Dorothy Shephard warned the arrival of variants in the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was likely imminent.
On Monday, Russell said, "That day has arrived."
"Today we can confirm the U.K. variant of COVID-19 is in our province."
There are two confirmed cases of the variant in the Saint John region, Zone 2, and one in the Miramichi region, Zone 7.
Two of the cases are related to international travel and one is related to travel in Canada. The individuals are self-isolating.
"The arrival of the variant will put more pressure on our health system," Russell said. "It is a very fast-moving strain, it infects quickly and in higher numbers, and it will be difficult to get ahead of it."
The variant wild card: expect changes
The news of the variant's arrival in New Brunswick on Tuesday probably surprised no one, least of all the health authorities who have been planning for it.
"You probably noted a change in my tone last week," Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said at Tuesday's COVID-19 update. "And I think that was the weight of all those new pieces of information colliding ... creating a perfect storm."
Russell said the changes that were introduced last week – tightened travel restrictions and self-isolation rules, keeping zones orange even when there were no cases – were made to protect the population against what was coming.
"We've tried to put in every layer of protection we can," Russell said.
But more layers are likely to come.
Russell said there have been conversations at the national and provincial level about how case management approach will need to change to cope with the variant wild card.
For example, she said, consideration is being given to asking not just the close contacts of cases to isolate, but also "the contacts of a contact."
In the meantime, Russell said, following the existing Public Health measures will continue to be "crucial," especially the avoidance of unnecessary travel.
"There are always going to be people moving back and forth across our borders, there's no question, our health-care system depends on it, our economy depends on it," she said.
"But the best thing we can do is stay at home as much as we can. Don't travel outside of the province unless it is absolutely necessary. It is a very risky time to travel right now."
Update on province's vaccine numbers
The province is racing against the clock to get its most vulnerable vaccinated. On Tuesday, Premier Blaine Higgs provided the following updated tally of vaccinations in the province:
About one in four nursing home residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Of the more than 27,000 health-care workers in the province, 10,136 have received at least one dose.
As of Jan. 30, doses have been administered to 17,277 New Brunswickers.
4,460 people have been fully vaccinated.
More than 1,300 people are scheduled to receive the second dose of the Moderna vaccine this week.
25 new cases reported, almost all of them in Zone 4
Russell also announced 25 new cases on Tuesday, the majority of them in the Edmundston region, Zone 4. They break down in this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1, one new case:
an individual 19 or under
Edmundston region, Zone 4, 24 cases:
two people 20 to 29
three people 30 to 39
four people 40 to 49
four people 50 to 59
three people 60 to 69
two people 70-79
five people 80 to 89
an individual 90 or over
Two patients are hospitalized, and both are in intensive care. There are 1,027 New Brunswickers in self-isolation.
New Brunswick has recorded 1,288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the pandemic ad now has 267 active cases. Since Monday, 30 people have recovered for a total of 1,002 recoveries. There have been 18 deaths.
A total of 203,290 tests have been conducted, including 2,123 since Monday's report.
Higgs says he'll push for made-in-Canada vaccines
The vaccine rollout and the delivery hiccups that have dogged it so far will be at the top of the agenda on Premier Blaine Higgs's Thursday evening conference call with the Prime Minister and premiers, Higgs said Tuesday.
Pfizer and Moderna have both delayed deliveries of their vaccines and on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a plan to produce millions of COVID-19 doses in Montreal — but they won't be ready till at least later this year.
Asked if he thought the rollout has been unravelling, Higgs was blunt.
"That will be a major topic of discussion on Thursday evening," he said. "I think we've learned through this pandemic we must be able to depend on each other throughout our country" in terms of everything from vaccines to energy supply.
"But right now, it's about vaccines. Right now, we should be looking to find locations that can make this vaccine here in Canada."
He said he'll again push for precise information on when the country will receive vaccines and how the provinces can help accelerate their production.
"We need to see which [province] is closest to having a vaccine capability for manufacture, and then rally the troops to do that," Higgs said.
"Let's talk about how quickly we can get them manufactured and distributed, right here in Canada."
Missed your test because of the storm?
If the nasty weather that lashed most of New Brunswick on Tuesday caused you to miss your scheduled COVID-19 test, you'll have to rebook it, according to the Horizon Health Network.
"If you are unable to attend your #COVID19 test today due to weather, please resubmit your request by visiting gnb.ca/coronavirus or calling Tele-Care 811," Horizon said in a tweet posted Tuesday with the hashtag #NBStorm.
"Once you resubmit, you will be contacted with a new appointment date and time."
New exposure notification for Air Canada flight
Public Health has identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious while on the following flight:
Air Canada Flight 8918, from Toronto to Moncton on Jan. 9, departed at 8:30 a.m.
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.