Newfoundland and Labrador returns to its new normal Saturday, after successfully quelling a coronavirus variant outbreak that infected hundreds last month.
Six weeks after suspending all non-essential activities and issuing stay-at-home orders, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Wednesday she would lift those restrictions — essentially restoring life to pre-outbreak quality, with movie theatres, restaurants and gyms permitted to open provincewide.
However, she warned of changes to Alert Level 2 this time.
"We will almost certainly see another variant case," Fitzgerald said. With increased contagiousness, public health orders now strongly emphasize reducing close contacts to fend off another widespread outbreak.
Here's what you need to know about the new version of Alert Level 2.
February's outbreak has largely been pinned on the spread of variant B117, a more contagious version of the coronavirus.
Public health officials have said the variant spread quickly due to high levels of interconnectedness among the infected. Kids on multiple sports teams, for instance, sent household contact numbers skyrocketing.
To prevent another large outbreak, Fitzgerald implored the public to keep contacts as low as possible, introducing the concept of a "steady 20": the maximum number of close contacts per household, not including a child's class cohort.
Those are family members or friends you'd invite over for dinner or share a table with at a restaurant, Fitzgerald said. Masks aren't necessary around these contacts.
Small gatherings, including birthday parties, among those contacts are allowed, but larger gatherings aren't encouraged. The goal, she explained, is to reduce non-essential interactions.
She also relaxed visitation restrictions inside retirement homes, once again permitting up to six registered visitors per resident.
Fitzgerald also encouraged outdoor events whenever possible.
All businesses can open
Non-essential retail stores and salons opened on the Avalon, and eateries welcomed customers elsewhere in Newfoundland and Labrador, at the last alert level change, on March 13.
On Saturday, the Avalon joins other regions in permitting in-person dining at restaurants, while bars and entertainment venues can open across the province.
That comes with a caveat, however: 50 per cent capacity, and two-metre distancing between groups of patrons, must be maintained at all establishments.
Gyms and other recreational facilities were given the green light, also with capacity restrictions.
However, Fitzgerald said she's still encouraging a widespread work-from-home policy. Anyone who can do their job outside the office, should, she said.
Sports slow to come back online
Sports and arts activities can resume across the province, but cautiously, Fitzgerald said.
People on the same sports team are allowed to practise and play together. But competition between teams requires organizations to submit a "return-to-sport" application.
A template for that application will be developed to simplify that requirement, Fitzgerald said. Officials want to know, she said, how sports organizations plan to limit contact between players.
Once those applications are in place, regional competition between teams might resume.
Provincewide tournaments won't be allowed yet, the chief medical officer said, but might return at some point in Level 2.
Teams practising together should avoid using the same change rooms, she said, and players should arrive, if possible, fully dressed. Masks should be worn as much as possible.
Fitzgerald also struck down any notion of an after-practice party, which officials have previously blamed, in part, for spreading the variant earlier this year. "There should be no social activities … such as socializing in change rooms," she said.
Masks a must
Masks are already being enforced in all indoor spaces across the province, but those rules require further tightening due to variant transmissibility, Fitzgerald warned.
That means keeping them on anywhere indoors, even while seated in a theatre, and removing them only to eat or drink.
Anyone doing light exercise in a gym or fitness studio should also try to wear a mask as long as possible.
"The more time we have our mask on while around others the better," Fitzgerald said. "I know that returning to Level 2 is welcome news, but we need to proceed with caution."
If the virus or its variant begins to circulate widely again, she added, another lockdown is possible.