N.B. officials watching increase in COVID-19 cases across Quebec border

·4 min read

With COVID-19 cases on the rise near the Quebec-New Brunswick border, officials in this province are watching carefully — especially those closest to the Quebec outbreaks.

The Bas-Saint-Laurent region of Quebec reported 13 new cases Wednesday, bringing the three-day total to 42. Last week, 81 new cases were reported, and there are currently more than 130 active cases. The region was one of four that were moved from green to yellow Tuesday.

That has Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard's attention.

"It raises some concerns in the community obviously," said Simard on Wednesday afternoon.

"I heard a lot of people saying, you know, if there is an increase in the Témiscouata region, maybe we should just put a halt on the bubble for a while until we get a feeling that it's under control."

City of Edmundston
City of Edmundston

Témiscouata is one of the two areas of Quebec that are bubbling with New Brunswick. It's also part of the Bas-Saint-Laurent health authority that was moved from green to yellow on Tuesday.

Simard said he's not sure how many of the active cases are in the "bubble region." But since there are no restrictions preventing residents from travelling on the Quebec side of the border, Simard says it almost doesn't matter.

"That's exactly the reason why it raises some concerns, because you could live in Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac, which is just 50 kilometres from Edmundston, but you can go to Rimouski every single day and work there, where they might have an increase of cases."

And if Quebec residents aren't entirely truthful when they cross into New Brunswick, they would simply be waived through.

"It's just based on the willingness of the people to say the truth," said Simard.

According to the government's website, 188 personal vehicles crossed the border into New Brunswick from Quebec on Tuesday at Lac Baker, near Edmundston. By comparison, 2,400 personal vehicles crossed the bridge in Campbellton from Quebec on Tuesday.

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Simard said some confusion over Quebec's new colour-coding system may be masking the extent of the province's COVID-19 problem — at least for New Brunswickers, who are used to a slightly different colour-coding system.

"Their green is our yellow," said Simard.

While each province develops its own system of grading restrictions, Quebec's newly adopted colours don't align with New Brunswick's.

The yellow that was recently adopted in Bas-Saint-Laurent more closely matches New Brunswick's orange level of restrictions.

To date, Bas-Saint-Laurent has had 212 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — 123 three of those have surfaced in the last 10 days.

Second wave?

One Edmundston physician believes the numbers indicate the start of a second wave of COVID-19.

Dr. John Tobin, the head of the family medicine department at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, told Radio-Canada on Tuesday that he expects to see an increase in cases in the coming weeks.

On Tuesday, Premier Blaine Higgs said New Brunswick officials are concerned.

"We're going to take a closer look, because [Quebec Premier] François Legault seems to be making changes in an area where we have a bubble," Higgs told Radio-Canada.

Government of Quebec
Government of Quebec

The other health authority that borders northern New Brunswick — and includes a second bubble area near Campbellton — remains green. Although they've had 222 cases so far, they've only recorded six new cases in the last 10 days. According to the government of Quebec's website, the area has had nine COVID-19-related deaths since March, compared to two in Bas-Saint-Laurent.

Simard said citizens of Edmundston have been closely watching what's happening across the border.

Although he has heard people suggest that it's time to close the border, he's not so sure. As long as the numbers don't continue to spike and health authorities don't lose control over the situation, he said it's a little too early to burst the Quebec bubbles.

Colour coordination

But in the meantime, Simard said it would be a lot easier for residents to follow the COVID-19 restrictions if there weren't such differences between provinces. He's said it's too confusing for Quebec's green to be our yellow, and their yellow to be our orange, and so on.

He said there should be discussions "on a national level" to establish a uniform approach to the colour-coding of recovery restrictions.

Despite repeated attempts Wednesday, no one from the Department of Health responded to CBC's request for information.