Newfoundland and Labrador is looking at beefing up its border restrictions as the threat of importing highly contagious COVID-19 variants continues to loom.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says her team is looking at everything from hotel quarantine to extra testing, but nothing concrete has been decided.
“We are looking at both of those options,” she told reporters during Wednesday’s live COVID-19 update. “As I said last week, we want to make sure we get it right.”
Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said there has been a 50 per cent increase in arrivals in the province, largely due to work camps winding down and students returning from studies.
Many of those passengers are bringing the coronavirus, primarily variants of concern.
Fitzgerald said that of the 42 cases of the disease reported in the past week, 39 are related to travel and three are close contacts.
“Thankfully, there has been no indication of onward spread of COVID-19 outside of affected households,” she said. “This tells us that returning travellers and their families are doing the right thing by adhering to self-isolation and testing requirements.”
However, she said importation of the coronavirus is still a huge concern.
“The epidemiology outside of our province remains grim, and our risk of an outbreak is still very high,” she said.
“Our public health team’s focus right now is primarily on travel, both in terms of surveillance and containment of new cases.”
Fitzgerald said the province should expect to see several new cases per day under current circumstances. The key, she said, is for everyone to remain vigilant with existing public health measures on hand hygiene, masks and physical distancing.
“Remember that travel restrictions are just one of the layers of protection. It is a safeguard, but not a guarantee. The safest strategy is to assume COVID is everywhere and to act accordingly,” she said.
“There’s always a chance that the holes in the Swiss cheese can line up so that a case can get through. So then, what we have to do is make sure that if a case does get through, it doesn’t get very far.”
The news was less grim on the vaccine front.
Premier Andrew Furey said 175,000 residents of the province have received at least one shot. Of those, about 10,000 have received their second dose.
Now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for anyone 12 years and older, Haggie says an additional 30,000 children have been added to the eligible candidate count, and Fitzgerald said the goal is to include that new 12-15 age group category in the plan to get one shot in every eligible arm by Canada Day.
“Immunizing of this age group will be an important part of achieving greater community protection, and plans are in development to ensure the first dose of vaccine before the end of the school year,” she said.
Haggie added that this age group constitutes an extra 30,000 people, about one week’s worth of vaccinations.
“Exactly how that will pan out over time will depend on the Pfizer delivery schedule,” he said, “but also depends on whether our estimates of uptake for the general population are accurate.”
Haggie, who said he’s getting his first shot in Gander on Thursday, said pharmacies will likely be brought into the picture in the final phase of vaccinations later this month, and will be especially helpful in places where health authorities might have difficulty setting up clinics.
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram