The number of COVID-19 patients in Newfoundland and Labrador has nearly doubled overnight, with 32 new cases announced on Wednesday.
There are now 67 cases, up from 35 on Tuesday afternoon. The youngest patient is eight years old and the virus has now reached all four of the province’s regional health districts.
The sharp increase, along with reports of residents flouting self-isolation requirements, prompted Premier Dwight Ball to issue a stark warning on Wednesday — and an increase in consequences.
“Do not, for one second think about jeopardizing the lives of others,” he said. “This is not a joke, ladies and gentleman.”
“I am pretty sure the last thing you want on your conscience when this is all said and done, is that you did not take this seriously.”
In addition to fines up to $2,500 and six months in jail, residents can now have their driver’s license seized for failing to adhere to self-isolation requirements under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act.
“Some of you are just not taking this seriously,” said Ball, vowing to do whatever it takes to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the province.
To date, public health officials have tested 1,336 residents for the novel coronavirus, 1,269 of whom got negative results.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health, reminded residents that even if their test results are negative, they must still complete their term of self-isolation.
“As our case numbers increase, our priority will be on contact-tracing,” she said.
“We are casting our net wide to ensure we identify all cases or as many cases as we can, and to help curtail the spread.”
The bulk of cases in Newfoundland’s Eastern Health Region are connected to Caul’s Funeral Home in St. John’s, which was visited by someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 earlier this month.
On Wednesday, Fitzgerald ordered anyone who attended the funeral home between March 15 and 17 to self-isolate until April 1.
“This virus for most people presents with mild symptoms,” she explained. “The days of going to work with the sniffles are over.”
The province announced new support on Wednesday for essential workers struggling to find childcare in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In the days to come, it will re-open regulated childcare services — free of charge — to the children of police, firefighters, paramedics, health care workers and other public servants required to continue working.
Those workers in need of the service are asked to fill out an online application form.
The government has also announced $500,000 in new funding for Food First NL to provide relief for residents experiencing food insecurity due to COVID-19.
The province remains in a public health emergency, and this week, ordered DRL coach buses – a critical transportation service – off the roads.
Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited and two weeks of self-isolation is required both for domestic and international travellers entering Newfoundland and Labrador, with the exception of select essential services workers.
The province has suspended counter service in many of its offices, established a help line for those in self-isolation, and created a public reporting form for those who wish to report concerns that someone isn’t following the COVID-19 rules.
Earlier this week, a woman in Corner Brook — a small city on the west coast of the island — was arrested for flouting self-isolation requirements under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act.
Police say the 53-year-old refused to stay at home after she returned from a trip outside the province is expected to make a court appearance Wednesday.
Const. James Cadigan said the province’s public reporting system has received more than 400 complaints from people reporting suspected contraventions of health directives. Officers, however, have been able to resolve 27 of them by contacting the person and educating them about the measures.
In the Corner Brook case the woman was not compliant and was held in a jail cell overnight. She may face a fine between $500 and $2,500 and a jail sentence of up to six months.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has also prompted politicians to hit the pause button on the campaign to replace Ball as leader of the N.L. Liberals — just days after the party declared it would continue online.
That comes in the wake of criticism from the political opposition, which said it was insensitive to residents during a pandemic to move forward with the campaign.
The party now says the suspension will be in effect until at least May 1, after which it will be determined whether the situation has improved enough to set a new date for the vote, to be conducted online and by phone.
Ball has said he’ll stay on as premier as long as is necessary to deal with the crisis.
His government is expected to introduce new legislation in the House of Assembly on Thursday that will help it secure loans to cope with the pandemic in the long-term.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
With files from The Canadian Press