ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Officials in Newfoundland and Labrador say schools will start their winter break a couple days earlier than planned in an effort to help combat a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Education Minister Tom Osborne announced Sunday that students will be off from school starting Tuesday instead of Thursday, and they should prepare for possible online learning when classes resume on Jan. 4.
"Let me be very clear. At this time public health continues to advise that schools are safe to remain open and we have not made a decision to pivot to online learning at this time," Osborne said at a news conference Sunday. "In light of the uncertainty around where things are going with this variant we are erring on the side of caution and preparing for that possibility."
The announcement comes as the province reported 61 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday.
The province’s chief medical officer of health said nine new cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the province, and there are 34 more presumptive cases to be confirmed with further testing.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said there are 127 active reported cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, and nobody is hospitalized due to the virus.
Fitzgerald said she's concerned with the spread of cases in the Central region of the province and announced new measures for the area as of midnight Sunday.
"Badger, Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander and Twillingate will move to Alert Level 3," she said. "We recommend travel in and out of these areas unless it is for essential reasons such as work or medical care."
Weddings, funerals, burials, religious and cultural ceremonies are limited to 100 people or 50 per cent of venue capacity, whichever is less. Performance spaces, cinemas and bingo halls are closed. And informal gatherings, such as those in the home are limited to a household steady 20.
Fitzgerald said as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, all fully vaccinated travellers must self-isolate upon arrival in the province for five days and take a rapid COVID-19 test each day.
Rotational workers must also take a PCR test within three days of arriving in the province and abide by modified self-isolation rules for five days while taking a rapid test every day.
"These are temporary measures to help us during this critical period. When it is safe to ease restrictions we will do so," she said. And Fitzgerald got emotional as she told residents to take care of themselves and "hold fast."
Premier Andrew Furey said the new rules were preemptive measures to keep the spread of the Omicron variant at bay.
Furey said everyone has seen the spread of Omicron in other parts of the country and wants to avoid the same situation in his province.
"The spectre of a surge is on our doorstep and we need to address it now before we suffer the same fate. I know it couldn't come at a worse time," he said.
He said people of his province will meet the challenge with a wall of their collective will.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2021.
- By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.
The Canadian Press