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Blaine Higgs suggests N.B. could be first province to reopen as no coronavirus cases reported Thursday

New Brunswick officials are set to provide an update on their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

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Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick extends state of emergency for 14 days' Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick extends state of emergency for 14 days
Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick extends state of emergency for 14 days – Apr 16, 2020

His government had earmarked a significant amount of money for paying down the province’s debt but admitted that is now unlikely to happen.

“We’ve used up all of our [fiscal capacity]…. we are now in very significant deficit territory and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Higgs said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming years… I think we have to be prudent.”

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READ MORE: 1 new coronavirus case identified in New Brunswick, remote care to be provided when possible

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.

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The province says 80 people have recovered.

Click to play video 'Higgs clarifies stance on frontline worker subsidies' Higgs clarifies stance on frontline worker subsidies
Higgs clarifies stance on frontline worker subsidies – Apr 15, 2020

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.

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“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.

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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.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick allows restaurants to sell liquor under state of emergency' Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick allows restaurants to sell liquor under state of emergency
Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick allows restaurants to sell liquor under state of emergency – Apr 16, 2020

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.

READ MORE: ‘Extremely difficult’ for fishing industry to maintain health protocols if season proceeds, says union

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.

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The New Brunswick government moved to restrict prescription refills to a month’s supply of medication at a time.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick extends state of emergency for 14 days' Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick extends state of emergency for 14 days
Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick extends state of emergency for 14 days – Apr 16, 2020

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.

“But now is not the time [to come here],” he said.
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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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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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