A reopening plan presented Thursday will see Newfoundland and Labrador loosen some public health restrictions on May 11 – as long as COVID-19 indicators remain steady.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald introduced the plan that follows five “alert levels” days after models showed the first wave of infections in the province appears to be subsiding.
Fitzgerald said the province has reached a “turning point” in its fight against the illness and thanked residents for adhering to public health orders and for their efforts to reduce the spread.
She said the term “alert level” was chosen in the plan, instead of “phase” or “stage,” because officials want the public to remain alert to the risk of resurgence.
“We still need to be alert, vigilant and aware,” she said, adding that the province could return to a higher alert level if necessary during the pandemic.
The move to level four will allow some medical procedures that had been halted to resume, as determined by the province’s four regional health authorities.
Low-risk activities such as golf, hunting and fishing will be permitted and low-risk businesses, including garden centres and professional services like law firms, will be able to reopen. Daycare services will be expanded to support workers returning to their jobs.
Funeral services will be permitted with a maximum of 10 people present.
The province announced no new cases on Thursday. There are 30 active cases of the illness in Newfoundland and Labrador, where 225 of 258 people have recovered. Three people have died.
Fitzgerald said the transition to level four will depend on indicators remaining as they are now, including no new infections from unknown sources.
As of Thursday, households can “double bubble” with one other household if both agree, a policy already in effect in New Brunswick allowing contact limited to two households.
“I hope that this will help to reduce some of the social isolation we all feel, especially those living alone,” Fitzgerald said.
Alert level four will remain in place for at least 28 days before moving to the next level, covering two “incubation periods” of the virus to allow proper assessment of the situation.
A timeline for moving to other alert levels will depend on health indicators at the time. Fitzgerald said the plan may change depending on developments in the province, country and around the world.
At level three, private health clinics like optometry and dentistry will be permitted to open, as well as medium-risk businesses like clothing stores and hair salons.
At level two, some small gatherings will be permitted, and businesses such as performance spaces and gyms will be allowed to reopen, as long as they can implement safety measures.
Level one will represent “the new normal,” Fitzgerald said. Some public health measures will remain in place until an effective treatment or vaccine is available, including prohibition of mass gatherings.
Childcare services will be expanded at each level as more workers return to their jobs, but schools will not reopen before September, Fitzgerald said.
Long-term measures include flexible work from home and sick leave policies, self-isolation requirements for those entering the province, restrictions on visitors to hospitals and assisted living facilities and limiting one worker to one care home to protect residents.
Several other provinces, including New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, have already introduced plans to reopen.
Prince Edward Island reported no new cases on Thursday. Twenty-four of the province’s 27 cases are considered resolved, and Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison said there were only six positive cases during the month of April.
Nova Scotia’s cases continued to climb Thursday, with 12 new cases of COVID-19 bringing the provincial total to 947.
There were 10 licensed long-term care homes and unlicensed seniors’ facilities in Nova Scotia with cases of COVID-19, involving 235 residents and 104 staff.
The province has recorded 28 deaths related to COVID-19, while 545 people are classified as recovered.
“What we are doing is working to slow this virus’s spread and we need to stay the course. Please continue to follow public health orders and advice,” Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2020.