‘The timing just sucks’

·4 min read

In typical fashion, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald expressed what everyone was thinking Friday as officials announced new measures to defend against a looming new wave of COVID-19 sparked by the newly arrived Omicron variant.

“The timing just sucks,” Fitzgerald told reporters. “There’s no other way to say it. But we are in a good place, and with these measures, I think we can be in a good place again.”

Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health, was joined by Premier Andrew Furey, Finance Minister Siobhan Coady and Health Minister John Haggie for an unscheduled COVID-19 briefing at which new restrictions were announced and an accelerated vaccine booster program was unveiled.

“It’s not the news we want to be sharing,” Furey said. “It is important to ensure that we can all have a safe holiday season and keep Newfoundlanders out of hospitals, out of the ICUs, as this variant inevitably spreads.”

“We have a very careful balancing act ahead of us, and we are cognizant that there have been many people and businesses impacted by COVID-19 restrictions over the past two years,” Fitzgerald added.

Among the new rules announced Friday, anyone considered a close contact of a case of COVID-19 must now isolate for seven days even if fully vaccinated.

Fitzgerald said changes to isolation rules are necessary because of an expected influx of cases, and admitted they can be confusing.

“In the weeks ahead, I expect that we will have many individuals potentially exposed to COVID-19 and wondering what their requirements are,” she said. “We have a self-isolation guidance tool available on our website to help people navigate those requirements. Please only call 811 if you are ill and need advice from a nurse, or you do not have access to the Internet and need assistance with completing the online self-assessment referral tool for testing.”

The province is also cutting back on capacity, reverting to 50 per cent capacity for all indoor venues, except for restaurants.

Starting Monday, the new limit applies to weddings, burials, funerals and other religious and cultural ceremonies where the VaxPass is used, and to 25 per cent where it’s not in place.

Fitness facilities, arenas, performance spaces, cinemas, bingo halls, bars and lounges are also limited to 50 per cent capacity.

Restaurants can operate at 75 per cent capacity if physical distancing is in place.

As of Saturday, no travel to other regions of the province is allowed for sports or arts events, and tournaments are also banned.

People should work from home where possible, Fitzgerald said.

However, there are no changes to the limit on informal gatherings (maximum of 25 people). Fitzgerald said masks, vaccines and distancing should be enough to keep spread down.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation, and restrictions may change with little notice,” she added. “We all need to be prepared to adapt if that happens.”

Friday also saw a change to when the population can get boosters.

Anyone over 18 can now get a booster as early as 22 weeks after their first series of shots. That interval was originally six months.

The new window means about 265,000 residents will be eligible for the third shot by the end of December, and the health authorities are ramping up operations for the expected demand.

However, Haggie said it’s up to regional health authorities to decide what their holiday schedules will be.

“A lot of staff have worked extremely hard delivering vaccines and I think some of them have kind of pinned their hopes on a family holiday just like we all have,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald said the one risk she feels more and more people are taking is not isolating when they feel symptoms.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of staying home if you are sick,” she said, adding that contact tracing shows people are increasingly still going to work or school or attending activities when they are.

“I understand that everybody is tired, but it’s really, really important to stay home and try to keep to yourself as much as you can if you’re not feeling well — and to get tested.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram

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