ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador were both battling COVID-19 community spread Wednesday as case numbers crept downward in Nova Scotia.
Health officials announced a concerning case of community transmission in New Brunswick, while officials in Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed that a new variant of concern was driving an outbreak in the central region of the province.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday that testing had determined the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India is behind the growing cluster of cases in the area.
"This variant is more easily transmissible than the original strain of COVID, and reports have also indicated it may be more transmissible than B.1.1.7," Fitzgerald told reporters in St. John's, referring to the variant first identified in the United Kingdom. "We continue to see new cases associated with the outbreak, indicating that there is still some community spread."
A 170-kilometre-wide area of the province stretching between the towns of Badger and Gambo has been under heightened public health restrictions since Monday as authorities try to contain spread of the virus.
Contact tracers are still trying to determine exactly where and how the outbreak in the region began, Fitzgerald said.
As of Wednesday, there were 46 confirmed positive infections linked to the cluster as well as two presumptive cases and one probable case. The presumptive cases will be tested further for confirmation, while the probable case involves a patient who was connected to the cluster and was symptomatic, Fitzgerald has said previously.
Some of those infected have had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Fitzgerald said, but she couldn't say how many.
Public health officials reported four new cases of COVID-19 in the province Wednesday, two of which are linked to the central Newfoundland outbreak. There are 93 reported active infections across the province, including six people in hospital due to the disease.
New Brunswick health authorities are also keeping a close eye on community transmission after a single case was identified in the Fredericton zone that could not be linked to an existing case or to travel, the province's chief medical officer of health said.
"This is concerning because to date, we have been able to link virtually all the active cases in that zone," Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters in Fredericton. "However, we do believe that this case is a different strain and not related to the other cases of COVID-19 now present in the Fredericton area."
New Brunswick public health officials reported 10 new infections Wednesday, with six cases in the Moncton region and the remaining four in the Fredericton region. There are 134 active reported infections across the province, including five people in hospital due to the disease.
Nova Scotia reported 37 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, nearly three weeks after health authorities announced 227 new infections, setting a new record in the province for daily reported infections. There are 787 active reported cases in Nova Scotia, according to online government data. Seventy-two people are in hospital due to the disease, including 19 in intensive care.
The province remains in lockdown and officials say restrictions will be in place until at least the second week of June. Premier Iain Rankin announced late last week that students would not be returning to in-person learning this year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2021.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press