FREDERICTON — A continuing outbreak of COVID-19 in northwestern New Brunswick has prompted health officials to place much of the region under full lockdown as of midnight Sunday.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said the move is necessary after 15 of 19 new cases announced Saturday were identified in the Edmundston-Grand Falls area.
Russell also announced one new COVID-19 related death — a person in their 70s in the Edmundston area. The death was the 33rd in the province since the onset of the pandemic.
"New variants of COVID-19 have changed the course of this pandemic," Russell told reporters. "We must now assume that these new variants are here with us to stay. Going forward Public Health will be assuming that all positive COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick are on of the highly infectious variants of concern."
She said the new variants are placing a strain on the health care system in the Edmundston area and are starting to effect other regions of the province that are accepting patient transfers as a result.
The variant found thus far has been that first identified in the U.K. known as B.1.1.7.
Russell said the province is dealing with as many as 16 confirmed cases of community transmission where officials can't trace the origin of an infection to an existing confirmed case.
"Community transmission prior to the U.K. variant arriving was concerning but community transmission with the U.K. variant is much more concerning," she said.
Russell said Saturday's other confirmed cases include two in the Fredericton area, one in the Moncton region and one in the Saint John area.
The province currently has 149 active cases.
Under the lockdown, people in the Edmundston region must stay home in order to limit contacts with others in the community and all non-essential businesses must close.
While Edmundston and the Upper Madawaska region go under full lockdown, Grand Falls and other nearby communities will remain in the red phase of restrictions, while Kedgwick and Saint-Quentin will continue in the yellow phase.
The province also announced that it was delaying its decision to resume full-time in-person learning for all high schools in the province on Monday.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the precaution is deemed necessary for the time being and will be revisited during the week of April 26.
"We need to be quite confident that we are not going to be contributing to the problem and this gives us more time to watch the cases," said Shephard. "If we don't have more cases then we can have more confidence going back (to school)."
Meanwhile, two positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at Ecole Saint-Jacques, in Saint-Jacques on Friday and officials said the Halte Scolaire Saint-Jacques — a child-care facility located within the school — would also be closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Ecole Saint-Jacques is also scheduled to move to virtual learning on Monday and Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2021.
By Keith Doucette in Halifax
The Canadian Press