Atlantic Bubble Shudders as COVID-19 Cases Rise in Three Atlantic Provinces

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George Street, in downtown St. John’s, on Saturday July 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

The Atlantic bubble appears to be holding fast against the rising tide of COVID-19 infections in the rest of Canada, but there were a few more signs Thursday that the region’s shield is slipping.

The New Brunswick government announced tighter restrictions on residents of the Moncton area to slow the spread of a COVID-19 outbreak. And health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador warned that a viral “tsunami” was approaching the province.

In New Brunswick, health officials reported four new cases Thursday, but they also confirmed that the number of cases in the Moncton area had doubled in the past week.

The province’s chief medical officer, Jennifer Russell, said the four new cases include three people in the Moncton area — two of them in their 20s and one under 19. The fourth case is a person in the Saint John area in their 30s.

“Everywhere around us, in Canada and the United States, the pandemic is intensifying,” she told a news conference in Fredericton. “Record numbers of cases are being reported each day in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta . . . and our next-door neighbours in Maine.”

As of Friday, everyone in the Moncton area will be required to wear a mask in all indoor and outdoor public places. Restaurants and dining rooms will be permitted to remain open, but patrons must maintain a single household bubble while dining out.

Hairstylists and non-regulated health professionals can remain open, as long as they have a plan in place to ensure physical distancing, closed waiting rooms and screening of patients. And there are new crowd limits on entertainment venues and gyms.

New Brunswick has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in Canada, but a steadily rising number of cases in neighbouring Nova Scotia has raised concerns that the protection of the so-called Atlantic bubble may be weakening.

“Our successes against the pandemic, gained through months of hard work and vigilance, can be lost very quickly,” Russell said, adding that health officials had also detected a new case of COVID-19 in a seniors residence in Dieppe, N.B.

Meanwhile, the province is imposing tighter restrictions on workers who travel outside the Atlantic region, saying they must remain in isolation until they test negative for COVID-19 between seven and 10 days after they return to the province. For workers staying longer than 10 days, two tests will be required.

The chief medical officer is also asking New Brunswickers to keep a written log of their close contacts and to make every effort to limit the number of people they meet with to six, which she referred to as the “safe six.”

Premier Blaine Higgs said New Brunswick remains the “envy of Canada,” when it comes to containing the virus.

“We need to keep our outbreaks under control,” he told the news conference. “We need to maintain our bubble.”

Higgs noted that if New Brunswick reached the same level of infection as Alberta, where there are more than 10,000 active cases, the province would have 1,700 active cases and its hospitals would be overwhelmed.

New Brunswick has now recorded 392 cases, six deaths and 343 recoveries. There were 43 active cases, but none of those people is in hospital.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia reported one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday. The new case was identified in the province’s central zone and is under investigation.

On Tuesday, health officials in Nova Scotia confirmed that they were dealing with community spread of the virus related to clusters in the Halifax region.

And the trend in Nova Scotia is worrisome. There were only three new cases in September, but that number jumped to 21 in October and 45 so far in November.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the chief medical officer issued a dire warning Thursday, likening the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country to a tidal wave headed toward the province.

Janice Fitzgerald said there is no evidence of community spread in the province, but she insisted that could change quickly if residents continue to show complacency about health protocols.

“There’s a tsunami just out there off our shores and, I’m telling you, it’s just waiting to crash down on us,” she told a news conference in St. John’s.

“We cannot keep it at bay with travel restrictions or quarantines — it’s going to take all of us doing our part to keep things safe.”

Fitzgerald confirmed the province had recorded one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday, a man in his 70s who lives in eastern Newfoundland.

She said that case, which brings the province’s total to 308 since the pandemic began, was related to an earlier infection, but she did not disclose further details.

As well, Fitzgerald warned residents of Grand Bank, N.L., not to be alarmed by the fact that a new COVID-19 case had been confirmed Wednesday at a local retirement home.

“(But) this should be a stark reminder that COVID can raise its head at any time and in any place,” she said.

“We have seen recent outbreaks and community spread within the Atlantic bubble and in Nunavut, areas that have been doing remarkably well like ourselves. There, but for the grace of the COVID gods, go us.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The Canadian Press

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