N.L. reports 46 new cases of COVID-19, shortens interval between second dose, booster

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador health officials tightened public health restrictions Friday in anticipation of another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, reported 46 new cases — a number that may seem small in comparison to soaring caseloads in Ontario, Quebec and even Nova Scotia. But in Newfoundland and Labrador, it's been more than two months since case counts crept above 40.

The last time they topped 46 was in February.

Fitzgerald said that while most of the province's 76 active reported infections involve the Delta variant, new Omicron infections have been confirmed and she expected more to come. To help curb Omicron's spread, she introduced new capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants, weddings and funerals. Travel from one region to another for team sports events and for recreational activities must stop as of Monday, she added.

"Another wave is coming and we need to batten down the hatches once again," Fitzgerald said Friday during a media briefing in St. John's.

She said she sympathizes with those who are tired of the pandemic and who just want to have a normal holiday with family and friends.

"The timing just sucks; there's no other way to say it," she said. "We're going to have a few less-than-deal weeks, I think, but I think we will be able to get to a good place again."

Bars must operate at 50 per cent capacity and restaurants at 75 per cent capacity, both with physical distancing measures in place, she said. Venues hosting weddings and funeral can run at 50 per cent capacity using the province's vaccine passport system and at 25 per cent capacity without it. Anyone identified as a high-risk contact of a confirmed case must now self-isolate for seven days, regardless of their vaccination status, she added.

Premier Andrew Furey announced a shortened interval for booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Everyone in the province aged 18 and over is now eligible for a third shot 22 weeks after their second dose — a change from the six-month interval announced Monday.

Friday was the deadline for Newfoundland and Labrador's public service workers to be fully vaccinated, and Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said 99.4 per cent of employees have complied. Health Minister John Haggie said just 75 of the 19,969 employees at the province's four regional health authorities would not be getting the vaccine, adding that 91 were partially vaccinated as of Friday.

About 92 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated and more than 49 per cent of kids between five and 11 years old have had a first dose of vaccine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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