U.K. variant confirmed in New Brunswick, 25 new COVID-19 cases reported

·2 min read

FREDERICTON — Public health officials in New Brunswick said Tuesday the U.K. variant of COVID-19 has been identified in the province.

Lab tests have confirmed two cases of the variant in the Saint John region and one in the Miramichi area. Scientists believe the U.K. variant is more transmissible and may be more lethal than the original strain of the novel coronavirus.

"Two of these cases are related to international travel and the other is related to travel within Canada," chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters, about the new variant. "These individuals have been informed and have already been in self-isolation."

Russell said it's important to limit travel, which she described as "risky."

"We know that out-of-province travel was the direct cause of 58 of the 655 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in New Brunswick in January," she said. "Roughly half of those travel-related cases were for work and roughly half were for non-essential reasons."

New Brunswick reported 25 new infections Tuesday — 24 of which were identified in the Edmundston region, which has been under lockdown for more than one week. Russell said 19 of the cases in hard-hit Edmundston were reported at the Villa Des Jardins retirement home. Ten cases involve residents and nine involve employees.

Russell called on people to volunteer at long-term care homes in the Edmundston region to help reduce the workload on staff.

New Brunswick has 267 active reported cases of COVID-19 and two people are in hospital with the disease, both of whom are in intensive care.

Premier Blaine Higgs also stressed the importance of avoiding travel unless absolutely necessary. "Each and every time someone travels, for whatever reason, there is a risk," Higgs told reporters. "The virus doesn't move on its own. People move the virus."

Higgs said travel restrictions will be the main topic of discussion when the all-party COVID cabinet committee meets Wednesday evening and when his provincial cabinet meets Thursday. "The idea is to review all essential travel and make decisions in relation to what we can change in that regard to minimize risk," Higgs said.

The premier said officials will be more visible at New Brunswick's borders and will be asking more questions to travellers seeking to enter the province. "It is going to become tighter than it was before," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press