People's Alliance leader says New Brunswick's COVID-19 response sowing confusion

·3 min read

FREDERICTON — The People's Alliance party says the New Brunswick government's recent decisions to curb the spread of COVID-19 are confusing for the public.

Leader Kris Austin has been a member of the all-party COVID-19 cabinet committee for the last 10 months but says he's confused and frustrated by some of the government's actions.

"We have to have rules that make sense," Austin said in an interview Wednesday. "They have to be concise and they have to be clear and they have to be consistent. If we're changing rules on the fly it just creates confusion."

New Brunswick has been reporting more than 20 new infections every day since Jan. 13. Austin said the decision this week to move more than half the province into the "red" pandemic-alert level has closed churches and hair salons without evidence they are hot spots.

"My understanding was when you went to red, that was the lockdown," he said. "That was the final step. But now we're hearing red is the new version of orange and there's a lockdown that could be coming. People are just scratching their heads unsure of what it all means."

Premier Blaine Higgs said this week that the government would consider imposing a lockdown if current measures to control the spread of the virus aren't effective. The COVID cabinet committee meets Thursday morning to discuss whether more restrictions are needed and if so, what they would look like.

"A lockdown is an extreme measure," Austin said. "I supported it last spring because this whole thing was new. We were trying to grapple with the health-care system to ensure it was ready should COVID cases spike. I think it was justified back then. I'm not so sure it's justified at this time."

Health officials reported 21 new infections Wednesday and said the province had 317 active reported cases. Two patients were hospitalized with the disease, including one in intensive care. There have been 13 COVID-related deaths and 1,025 reported infections since the start of the pandemic.

Officials said Wednesday a case had been identified at Edith Cavell School in Moncton and one at Ecole Saint-Jacques in Saint-Jacques, N.B. They declared an outbreak at Manoir Belle Vue, a special care home in Edmundston, following a recent confirmed case of COVID-19 there.

Meanwhile, the Opposition Liberals are calling on the Higgs government to provide financial support for businesses impacted by the pandemic. Gilles LePage, critic for economic development and small business, says people are following advice to stay home and only go out for essentials, and that's affecting businesses.

"The province has the duty to step up and provide the financial aid necessary to keep these businesses afloat," LePage said in a statement. He said it's more critical than ever for the government to identify what businesses need help and to provide temporary financial aid.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press