As of midnight Monday night, restrictions will be loosened in the Moncton and Edmundston regions, and Public Health has reported just two new cases — the lowest case numbers since New Year's Day.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said the Edmundston region, Zone 4, will move from lockdown to the red alert level, and the Moncton region, Zone 1, will move from red to orange.
The Moncton region has been in the red phase of recovery since Jan. 19, while the Edmundston region had been in the most restrictive lockdown phase since Jan. 23.
At a live-streamed update on Monday, Russell noted that the changes "do not mean the virus has been eradicated ... it means the risk of transmission has lessened. But the risks are still there and the risks of the variants are still there."
Both of the two new cases are in the Edmundston region and break down in this way:
an individual 20 to 29
an individual 40 to 49
New Brunswick now has 182 active cases of COVID-19. Since Sunday, 23 people have recovered for a total of 1,143 recoveries. Seven patients are in hospital, including two in intensive care.
A total of 210,917 tests have been conducted, 789 since Sunday.
New Brunswick has recorded 1,346 during the pandemic. Since Sunday, 23 people have recovered for a total of 1,143 recoveries.
To date, there are three confirmed cases of the variant first reported in the U.K. — two in the Saint John region, Zone 2, and one in the Miramichi region. Two of them are linked to international travel and one to travel within Canada.
A fourth probable case — a close contact of one of the confirmed cases — was announced Friday by Premier Blaine Higgs. On Monday, Russell said Public Health is awaiting confirmation of that case, pending results from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
Red and orange refreshers: A rules reminder
The Edmundston region, Zone 4, moves to the red phase of recovery at midnight Monday night, and the Moncton region, Zone 1, to the orange phase.
Here's a quick refresher of the rules in these phases. A full list of the rules is available on the government's gnb.ca website.
The rules of red
Residents must spend time only within their single household bubble, which may be extended if necessary to include a caregiver, a family member who needs support from someone within the household and one other person who needs support.
Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools can reopen with stronger health and safety measures in place. In Zone 4, francophone schools will reopen on Tuesday and anglophone schools on Wednesday.
More retail establishments are permitted to open with an operational plan, but salons, gyms and entertainment venues must remain closed.
Restaurants may only offer drive-thru, take-out and delivery options.
The rules of orange
Residents may spend time with their household and an additional 10 people in their steady 10 list of contacts. These people cannot change from one week to the next.
Businesses such as gyms, salons and entertainment venues may reopen.
Restaurant dining rooms may also reopen, but restaurants must keep a list of names and contact numbers of all diners to help with contact tracing.
Rotational workers 'bearing a heavier burden'
Rotational workers have been speaking out about how strict new measures have been affecting their families since they were introduced by Public Health on Jan. 29.
Before the changes, workers could leave isolation early with a negative test. Under the new rules, they must self-isolate for 14 days away from others. If family members are present, the entire household must self-isolate.
On Monday, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, answered several questions about the changes and took a full four minutes in her opening address to discuss the rotational workers' situation.
Russell repeatedly said she knows the new rules have caused "heartbreaking" hardships for rotational workers and their families but said the dramatically heightened risks posed by variants in the coronavirus have left Public Health no choice.
"Please understand that we don't take these sacrifices lightly," Russell said. "I know you are bearing a heavier burden in this fight compared to others ... and I want to thank all the rotational workers for the sacrifice they're making to keep New Brunswickers safe from COVID-19."
Russell noted she has a relative who is married to a rotational worker and she has "heard the stories about him isolating in a different house and how terribly difficult it is for their daughter. It's just really heartbreaking."
However, she said, "people who are travelling are at higher risk of becoming infected ... and therefore of bringing that risk into the province, and that risk has been escalating since the summer."
A full 14-day self-isolation away from family members works, Russell said.
"It is the only way to contain it. So I am grateful to everyone who is following this advice, because it is saving lives."
Asked for numbers on how many cases have been traced to rotational worker travel and how many to more frequent cross-border travel by workers deemed essential, Russell said that from December to January, about "about 35 of the 86 travel-related cases were from essential workers."
However, she said, about 35 per cent of travellers in that time period fell into the category of essential workers, "which included the rotational workers."
It also included truck drivers, health-care workers and people who live on the border who have to come into the province every day.
"What we really want the message to be is we're trying to minimize the risk of anybody bringing COVID-19 into the province, period," Russell said.
Health minister updates vaccine numbers
The province's health minister faced questions on the next phase of the vaccine rollout in New Brunswick at Monday's COVID-19 briefing.
Dorothy Shephard noted that the continued supply and delivery issues are presenting challenges but said the province's focus hasn't wavered.
"With the supply in question it is harder for us to give firm answers about how and when we will continue our vaccine rollout," Shephard said. "Just know that we are determined to do so as quickly and as efficiently as possible."
Shephard provided some updated vaccine numbers, as follows:
Of more than 27,000 health-care workers in the province, 10,352 have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Feb. 6.
Of more than 11,000 long-term care residents, 2,840 have received at least one of the required two doses.
This week, more than 2,900 health-care workers and 600 long-term care residents will get the second dose.
As of Saturday, 18,643 doses of the vaccine have been administered, and 5,347 people have been fully vaccinated.
In the zone: Russell urges caution for March Break
Dr. Jennifer Russell is strongly advising that New Brunswick residents, including students, avoid leaving the country, the province and even their own health zone during the upcoming Family Day long weekend or March Break.
At Monday's COVID-19 update, the chief medical officer of health said she understands the urge to escape to a warmer climate or "just get away from home for a few days."
But the "hard lessons" of the holidays have shown the danger of that escape, at least for now.
"This year," Russell said, "things will have to be different."
Travel outside of Canada is "definitely not recommended, and we would discourage travel to other provinces at this time," she said.
"We also want to see less moving around within the province over the March Break. Our advice to all New Brunswickers is to enjoy the March Break holiday, but do it close to home. Restrict your travel plans to within the zone where you reside."
Russell noted that anyone who does choose to travel outside of the province must follow all border protection measures and self-isolation guidelines, which include self-isolating for 14 days apart from other people upon returning to the province.
"As tired as we all are of this pandemic, this is not the time to relax."
'Public conversation' about seriousness of variant
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says the government plans early this week to have "a very public conversation with our population to help them understand how serious this variant is."
As of Friday, the Public Health still had no variant projections to share, said spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.
"Given we are currently still learning about the new variant and how it transmits we have no formal modelling projections available at this time," he said in an emailed statement.
"We are collaborating with our national partners to better understand what the introduction of a new variant may look like for New Brunswick."
The variant is more transmissible than the coronavirus that has caused most New Brunswick infections. It is up to 30 to 70 per cent more contagious, the chief medical officer of health has said.
Asked whether the New Brunswick COVID-19 dashboard will be updated now that the variant is in the province, Macfarlane said confirmed cases of the variant "will be communicated as soon as possible to the public.
"Whether or not these numbers will be posted to the dashboard is yet to be determined."
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.