N.B. Premier Blaine Higgs says he tested positive for COVID-19, symptoms mild

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FREDERICTON — New Brunswick announced a series of measures Friday aimed at keeping its health-care system from being overwhelmed by a wave of infections, as Premier Blaine Higgs confirmed he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Higgs told reporters he tested positive using a rapid test, and he credited his mild symptoms to vaccination. He said he got the positive result Wednesday after coming down with symptoms resembling those of a cold, including a cough, sore throat and "some head congestion."

"I'm double vaccinated, plus I've had my booster," Higgs told reporters via video during a briefing in Fredericton. "Because of that I'm confident that my symptoms will remain mild."

Higgs said he had been taking rapid tests and monitoring for symptoms because members of his family had been identified as close contacts of COVID-19 infections. His rapid test result will be confirmed with a more accurate polymerase chain reaction test, he said.

Meanwhile, he is isolating at home with his family, and everyone is "doing well," he said.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard told reporters the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus is ripping through New Brunswick, adding that if things continue unabated, the province could see up to 1,000 new cases each day within a week. The minister said those projections would translate to more than 160 patients in hospital by mid-January — a situation that would "quickly overwhelm our health-care providers."

"Right now, we are on the precipice of the most serious situation our province has seen since the COVID 19 pandemic began," Shephard said, adding that non-urgent medical procedures have been cancelled and social visitors are no longer allowed in hospitals.

Officials reported 682 new cases Friday, marking another daily record. The province has 3,522 active reported cases and 45 people in hospital with the disease, including 21 in intensive care.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said diagnostic PCR testing will be reserved for high-risk populations, like those who work or live in long-term care facilities, correctional facilities and homeless shelters. Those who are symptomatic and over 50, those who need a test for travel and anyone else identified as a priority will also have access to PCR testing, she added.

Residents will need to register their results from rapid tests online at a new government portal, which she said would be available next week.

"New Brunswick is not alone in changing our approach," Russell said. "We are taking similar steps that other provinces have already implemented related to testing, isolation and contact tracing."

She said a shorter isolation period is being introduced for people who have tested positive, in order to help prevent staff shortages for essential services. Vaccinated people who have tested positive and are asymptomatic can leave isolation after five days, Russell said, adding that the same isolation period applies for close household contacts who are vaccinated.

Unvaccinated people who test positive will need to isolate for 10 days, she added.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said schools will reopen after the winter break for remote learning only, beginning Jan. 11 and until at least Jan. 21. The situation will be re-evaluated on the week of Jan. 17, he said.

"These decisions are intended to manage risk, to protect our communities and our hospital system; they were not made lightly," Cardy said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2021.

— With files by Sarah Smellie in St. John's and Keith Doucette in Halifax.

The Canadian Press

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