The New Brunswick government has abruptly changed its COVID-19 restriction which stopped at least one Canadian couple from entering the province to visit their sick mother, despite being cleared by federal officials to cross the U.S. border.
The province said on Friday that visits to immediate family members in New Brunswick are now open to anyone who has been approved by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) through the New Brunswick Travel Registration Program.
Previously, visits were restricted to residents of Canadian provinces and territories.
It’s good news for one family, who has questioned decision-making by the provincial government.
Lisa Stephenson and her husband Derek are Canadian citizens living in Swansea, Mass. The couple had been trying to get home to Riverview, N.B., to help care for Lisa’s mother, Phyllis Smith, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for advanced non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
They went public earlier this week, telling Global News, that they had applied to CBSA with a detailed self-isolation plan and were approved by the federal agency.
The pair were even planning to have COVID-19 testing done before leaving the U.S. as an added precaution, but New Brunswick rejected the application. That decision has now been reversed.
Derek told Global News that he received a call from the government of New Brunswick on Friday morning, telling him that they had changed their policy, allowing the Stephensons, and those in situations like them to enter the province.
“She said to reapply and that now with the updated order we should be able to have an approval which we submitted already and received,” Derek said.
Lisa said she’s “very happy” that the province has changed course.
“All I’ve wanted is just to go be with my mom as she’s going through cancer. She actually just had an appointment this morning. So she’s going to be going into the next battle in her cancer journey,” she told Global News over a video call.
“The fact that I’ll be able to be there with her through that is amazing”
The family credits media coverage, including by Global News, as key to changing the province’s decision.
Smith said it was difficult and uncomfortable to speak out after the initial denial but knew that she had to do so. She says she knew they weren’t the only family impacted by the restrictions.
She said hearing the policy had been changed was the “best news” she has heard all day.
“I cried. I smiled,” said Smith. “I want to hug her. I can’t wait to hug her and hold her and my son-in-law.”
Her family will have to self isolate for two weeks before they can reunite but Smith says that is OK with her.
It’s a belief echoed by her daughter.
“Having to be there from a distance has just been so hard so now knowing that this hurdle we’ve had to, unfortunately, go through is done and soon, we’ll be with her and be able to support her in person. It just feels so amazing that I’m going to be able to do that and be with her and be a family,” said Lisa.
How the new change works
The New Brunswick government said that anyone from outside of Canada planning to visit family members in New Brunswick should register as an “Other” through the New Brunswick Travel Registration Program and write that they are visiting immediate family in the province.
Anyone entering New Brunswick will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days, as per provincial and federal regulations on COVID-19.
All visitors entering New Brunswick must be symptom-free, according to the province.
–With files from Global News’ Shelley Steeves