FREDERICTON — Premier Blaine Higgs made a bold prediction Tuesday about New Brunswick's COVID-19 recovery, suggesting the province may become the first in the country to lift pandemic-related restrictions.
He told reporters in Fredericton that if New Brunswick continues to keep COVID-19 infections low and people follow health orders over the next few months, "we will have a province that will get back to green faster than anyone else.
"If this virus is controlled through this time period and we stay focused on the task at hand, we will be able to roll out the vaccines faster than anyone else."
The Edmundston zone in the northwest of the province was set to return to the "yellow" warning level at midnight Tuesday — the second lowest alert level in the province's recovery plan. New Brunswick will move into the lowest pandemic-alert level — green — after most of the public is vaccinated, authorities have said.
"I'm thrilled that our entire province is in the yellow level just in time for the holidays, which means we can celebrate with our loved ones in small gatherings," Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said. "But if we want to stay at yellow, we need to keep our number of contacts low this holiday season."
The province vaccinated nearly 2,000 health-care workers and residents of a long-term care home over the weekend in Miramichi.
Shephard said another 3,900 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in the province Tuesday. She said half would be reserved as the second doses for the people included in the first clinic. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses to be fully effective.
The remaining 975 doses, Shephard said, will be administered to front-line health-care staff starting Wednesday at a clinic at the Georges L. Dumont Hospital in Moncton. "Public Health will be reaching out to those groups for accepting appointments and we are going to roll it out as responsibly as we can, ensuring that proper shifts are covered," Shephard said.
New Brunswick reported two new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday — both in the Moncton zone. One case involves someone in their 20s who is a close contact of a previous case, and the second case is travel related and involves a person in their 60s.
Officials in Prince Edward Island said they would have about 1,500 front-line health-care workers vaccinated by the end of the day Tuesday.
Chief medical officer Dr. Heather Morrison said the remainder of the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be used next week. P.E.I.'s vaccination program began last Wednesday at a Charlottetown hospital after the Island received 1,950 doses.
Morrison said the province expects to begin receiving a vaccine by United States biotech company Moderna in the beginning of 2021, once Health Canada approves it.
"There will be vaccine for all Islanders who want to receive it," she told reporters. "Although it will take months for everyone to be vaccinated, Islanders can be assured their turn will come."
She said the plan is to start administering vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities early in the new year. The Island reported no new cases of novel coronavirus on Tuesday and is currently dealing with seven active cases.
Morrison issued a plea to anyone travelling to P.E.I. over the holiday season to self-isolate, given the high number of cases in other parts of Canada. "For family members who travel to P.E.I. for the holidays, the preferred option is to self-isolate in a separate location for 14 days," she said.
In Nova Scotia, health officials reported seven new COVID-19 cases Tuesday as the number of active cases rose by two, to 40.
Three of the new cases are in the Halifax area and are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada, while the other four cases are in the northern health zone and are close contacts of previously reported cases. No one is currently in hospital with the disease.
"COVID-19 is still here and wants us to let our guard down," Premier Stephen McNeil said in a news release. "We will contain the virus over the holiday season by keeping our gatherings small, wearing a mask and following all of the other public health protocols."
In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials reported one new case of COVID-19 Tuesday. The case involves a man between 20 and 39 years old who returned to the province from work in Alberta.
The province has 29 active reported infections, with one person in hospital with the disease.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2020.
— With files from Keith Doucette in Halifax.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press