There are now four cases of the novel coronavirus in Newfoundland and Labrador — the first increase in the number of cases since Tuesday.
The update came Friday afternoon from Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health.
“This is not unexpected,” Fitzgerald told reporters, in a press conference with Premier Dwight Ball and Health Minister John Haggie.
“We know that with international travel patterns and the spread of this virus, that we are likely to have cases related to travel in this province.
The new case is a man in the Eastern Health Region who recently returned from international travel. He has mild symptoms and is self-isolating, she added. The other three confirmed cases are in the Labrador-Grenfell health district.
To date, public health officials have tested 791 residents, with 787 negative cases. Three hundred people are in self-isolation under the close watch of the Health Department.
“This is part of the public health process,” said Fitzgerald. “Our public health officials are working tirelessly and are well prepared to respond.”
The provincial government recently declared a public health emergency, and moved to close most communal spaces, including gyms, bars, dance studios, performance centres, movie theatres, bingo halls and schools.
Beginning Saturday, liquor stores across the province will also close, although measures to allow phone and email orders are currently being developed.
On Friday, Premier Dwight Ball took the preventative measures one step further, ordering anyone who returns from outside the province — including domestic travellers — to self-isolate for 14 days.
“We will do everything within our power to implement the strictest screening measures possible to protect Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, including health assessment forms to be completed at the point of entry of the province,” he said.
The public health emergency will last until April 1 — two weeks after its declaration, as per the Health Protection and Promotion Act, but health officials will review its status every five days.
The pandemic has had serious financial implications for the cash-strapped province, where both Equinor and Husky Eneergy have deferred the Bay du Nord offshore development project due to falling oil prices and economic downturn.
A statement from Equinor Canada says planning on the project will continue with adjusted timelines.
The project in the Flemish Pass Basin, about 500 kilometres east of St. John’s, was announced in 2018 but not yet officially sanctioned. Equinor had set a target of 2020 to decide.
“There’s no question this has had a significant and sever impact on Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Ball on Friday.
“What we’re seeing are revenues decreasing and expenses increasing, but right now, as I said earlier, our priority is on protecting health.”
The crisis takes place as the province’s Liberal Party kicks off its race to replace Ball as premier, following his resignation earlier this year. The party has received criticism for failing to cancel the election as the government grapples with the outbreak.
Ball said Friday he would not have resigned in February, knowing what he knows now, and he will continue to serve as premier throughout the pandemic.
“On February 17 when I made the decision to leave politics, this was a very different world, a very different province than it is today,” he told reporters.
“My priority right now is not about the future of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s about the future of Newfound and Labrador and its residents.”
The Liberal Party says the in-person convention scheduled for May in St. John’s will be cancelled, but the campaign and convention, including all voting, will happen online and by phone.
With files from The Canadian Press