Newfoundland and Labrador confirms U.K. variant behind COVID-19 outbreak

·2 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health confirmed Friday the U.K. variant is behind the COVID-19 outbreak that hit the province this week.

In a news conference on Friday night, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said she is moving the entire province back to its highest alert level.

"I can't really sugar-coat this for anybody, but what we have to remember is that ... we know that these public health measures will work against this variant, just as (they) would work against any variant of COVID-19."

Fitzgerald said the confirmation of the variant helps explain why the outbreak in the greater St. John's region spread so quickly and easily.

Newfoundland and Labrador has largely enjoyed low single-digit daily case numbers with people leading relatively normal lives throughout the pandemic. But on Monday, cases began to climb. As of Friday afternoon, there were 260 active cases in the province, and Fitzgerald said nine more were confirmed since that count.

She said it's impossible to know how many cases of the variant are in the province right now, though it is presumed that all of the 244 COVID-19 cases identified this week in the St. John's area are related to the more infectious B. 1.17 variant of the virus, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.

Under the province's Alert Level 5, gatherings of more than 5 people are prohibited and non-essential businesses are closed, as are restaurants, bars and cinemas. Fitzgerald's advice for people's weekend plans was blunt: "Stay in your bubble."

Questions about the provincial election loomed over the news conference, but neither Fitzgerald nor Liberal Leader and former Premier Andrew Furey, who sat beside her, would comment on how the night's announcements would impact the vote which, as of the end of the briefing, was scheduled to go ahead in some districts on Saturday.

Minutes after the conference ended, the province's chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk issued a news release saying all in-person voting was cancelled and the election would proceed with mail-in ballots only.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on Feb. 12, 2021.

The Canadian Press