Premier Blaine Higgs raised the possibility of a faster rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and a quicker reopening of provincial borders on Thursday.
The premier said with a new federal recommendation that second doses can be delayed by up to four months, New Brunswick could get everyone their first shot by the end of June.
He also raised the possibility during a news conference with fellow premiers of re-establishing the Atlantic bubble and even getting borders to the rest of Canada "opened up" and "getting ourselves back to normal this spring."
But speaking to New Brunswick journalists later, Higgs qualified that statement, saying it would depend on vaccination levels and other factors.
He said talks with other Atlantic premiers on reopening borders within the bubble will probably happen in April.
Factors that will determine reopening
Higgs said it could be a reality "for this summer, but I'd like to get beyond that, and that'll depend on how many vaccines we have access to" as well as whether vulnerable groups and people who cross the borders regularly are vaccinated.
"The move to the rest of Canada will be very dependent on the condition in the rest of Canada, in the big major centres, and what the vulnerability is for our province and the Atlantic region. That won't change unless we see a substantial change in those regions."
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization told provinces this week that second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines can all be delayed by four months.
Several provinces have said they'll take that advice.
Higgs said New Brunswick's all-party COVID-19 committee will make a decision on it next Tuesday, "but I would suggest we will be moving in that direction as well."
That would allow the province to stretch its expected vaccine deliveries enough to provide more people their first dose sooner, possibly reaching everyone by the end of June, Higgs said.
"That's what I'm focused on," he said.
Given one dose reduces the risk of transmission significantly, Higgs said, that could see New Brunswick get "back to normal" by the end of June rather than the end of September, the target Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has set for immunization of all willing Canadians.
"The potential of moving that forward is real," Higgs said.
Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island both said Thursday they believe everyone who wants to be vaccinated can get a first dose by the end of June.
5 new cases in three zones
Public Health reported five new cases in three zones on Thursday and said a presumptive case of a variant has been confirmed as the B117 variant strain.
That previously reported case, which had been sent to Winnipeg's National Microbiology Laboratory for sequencing, was in the Miramichi region, Zone 7.
The new cases break down in this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1, one case:
an individual 20 to 29 years old. The case is travel-related.
Edmundston region, Zone 4, three cases:
two people 20 to 29
an individual 70 to 79
Miramichi region, Zone 7, one case:
an individual 20 to 29. The case is under investigation.
All of these people are self-isolating.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 1,443, and there are now 36 active cases.
Since Wednesday, six people have recovered for a total of 1,378 recoveries. There have been 28 deaths.
Three patients are in hospital, and two are in intensive care. A total of 231,307 tests have been conducted, including 767 since Wednesday's report.
Mass testing underway in Zone 7
Mass testing clinics have been set up to help determine if there has been any further spread in the Miramichi region following several new cases and the confirmation of the variant's presence this week.
The tests are available on a walk-in basis — no appointment necessary — for people who do not have any symptoms of COVID-19.
Testing is being held Thursday until 7 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the gymnasium of the Dr. Losier Middle School, 124 Henderson St.
No time to let up precautions, epidemiologist says
More people are being vaccinated each day and the number of COVID-19 cases has been dwindling for the most part, but there is still a chance Canada could face a third wave of the disease, an epidemiologist says.
"We have learned from the past just as quickly as they go in the right direction they can go in the wrong direction," Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist in Winnipeg, told Information Morning Fredericton on Thursday.
A third wave of COVID-19 in Canada is still hard to predict, she said. Germany and the Czech Republic are already experiencing third waves of the respiratory virus.
Carr said a third wave of COVID-19 in Canada would mean something has changed, including the virus itself. It would also mean an increase in cases, although with vaccine rollouts underway, the virus could be milder.
A combination of personal vigilance and Public Health measures is still needed.
"The virus cannot spread and thrive if we don't give it a chance to pass from one person to another."
Public exposure notifications
Public Health has identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious while on the following flight:
Air Canada flight 8906 on Feb. 20, from Montreal to Moncton, departed at 7:10 p.m.
Anyone who took this flight should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after the flight. people who develop COVID-19 symptoms should self-isolate and take the self-assessment online or call 811 to get tested.
On Wednesday, Public Health issued a list of potential public exposures to the virus at the following locations in Zone 7. Individuals who tested positive were in these establishments. The department does not have the exact times these people were in the businesses on the list, "but it is believed it was for a short duration on these dates."
Sobeys, 273 Pleasant St., Feb. 15, Feb. 19, Feb. 24 and Feb. 25
Atlantic Superstore, 408 King George Hwy, Feb. 15, Feb. 23 and Feb. 28
Shoppers Drug Mart, 397 King George Hwy, Feb. 15, Feb. 17 and Feb. 26
Dollarama, 100 Douglastown Blvd., Feb. 20
Winners, 2441 King George Hwy, Feb. 22 and Feb. 24
Giant Tiger, 2441 King George Hwy, Feb. 24
Walmart, 200 Douglastown Blvd., Feb. 24
Bulk Barn, 100-99 Douglastown Blvd. on Feb. 27
NB Liquor, 221 Pleasant St., Feb. 27.
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.