Correction: A previous version of this story said the Higgs government was considering reopening provincial borders as early as May. In fact, the premier said Thursday that borders would likely not reopen this summer. Global News apologizes for the error.
New Brunswick’s premier suggested on Thursday that the province could be among the first in Canada to begin lifting restrictions, saying that if things continue to improve a decision could come as early as May.
“A lot is depending on the coming weeks,” said Premier Blaine Higgs during a provincial update, saying that reopening the economy was contingent on public health orders and testing levels.
Higgs said that the provincial budget presented last month has been tossed out of the window as a result of the pandemic but that it was important to be cautious when looking to re-open businesses.
His government had earmarked a significant amount of money for paying down the province’s debt but admitted that is now unlikely to happen.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming years… I think we have to be prudent.”
Higgs’s announcement came after health officials said they had found no new cases of the novel coronavirus in the province on Thursday.
That means the total number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick remains at 117.
According to the province, of the 117 cases, 66 are travel-related, 42 are close contacts of previously confirmed cases and nine are the result of community transmission.
Thirteen people have been hospitalized so far and seven have since been discharged.
Three of the six people still in hospital remain in intensive care.
The province says 80 people have recovered.
The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said the lack of new cases is a good sign and that physical distancing is working but that it does not mean it is time to let up.
“This is important,” she said.
“Follow the directions of public health to the letter.”
Russell said 490 tests were conducted on Wednesday and that widespread testing is key in the province’s efforts to identify and trace where the virus is in New Brunswick.
She detailed the efforts by public health to conduct “contact tracing” or tracking down those who may have been exposed to individuals who have tested positive for the virus.
“These efforts are slowing the spread of COVID-19 in New Brunswick,” she said.
“These efforts are saving lives.”
State of emergency extended
Higgs also announced that the province’s declaration of a state of emergency has been extended for another 14 days.
The premier said New Brunswick will continue to extend the state of emergency until officials feel that it is safe.
However, the province has made a series of changes and clarifications under the order.
Those revisions include permission for restaurants that have an existing liquor licence to sell alcohol as part of their takeout business.
Agriculture businesses will also be permitted to open. Higgs said the businesses are needed to grow food and therefore are an essential service.
He said the province is also encouraging pharmacies to waive dispensing fees after complaints about multiple fees being charged under restrictions implemented by the province last month.
The New Brunswick government moved to restrict prescription refills to a month’s supply of medication at a time.
Higgs asked for out-of-province residents who own a second home in New Brunswick to stay away for the time being.
“I understand that flood season is underway,” Higgs said on Thursday, alluding to the two back-to-back years of record-setting flooding in the province.
With files from Aya Al-Hakim, Silas Brown
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
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. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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