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Newfoundland town shuts down amid COVID concerns as province stays out of bubble

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The World Health Organization (WHO) officials said Monday they do not foresee mandatory vaccinations being introduced around the world to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Kate O'Brien, WHO's director of immunization vaccines and biologicals, added there may be some situations where it is highly recommended for people to be vaccinated, such as staff in hospitals – Dec 7, 2020

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Newfoundland and Labrador will stay out of the Atlantic bubble for at least another month as the province prepares to receive its first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine next week.

Premier Andrew Furey told reporters Monday that the province’s decision two weeks ago to burst the bubble would remain in place, meaning all visitors to the province must self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether they come from Atlantic Canada.

Canada’s easternmost province joined Prince Edward Island, which announced late last week that it will remain out of the bubble at least until Dec. 21.

Read more: Prince Edward Island’s aggressive approach to curbing COVID-19 spread applauded

P.E.I. has since entered a two-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown in an effort to deal with possible community spread of the novel coronavirus.

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The Atlantic bubble was established in July and allowed residents of the region to travel between the provinces without self-isolating.

“I think we’ve seen within adjacent jurisdictions that the numbers haven’t materially changed all that much,” said Furey. “We’ve seen in Prince Edward Island nearly a full lockdown. We don’t want to go there, so this is a measure to try to prevent that.”

Furey also said the province would receive 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week. “Thank God,” he said. “Hope is on the horizon.” He said the province expects another shipment of the vaccine later in the month.

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The province announced no new cases on Monday, but the town of Harbour Breton was on high alert as officials were still trying to chase down the source of an infection announced in the region over the weekend.

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Echoing the town council’s plea to residents on Sunday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald asked people in the town to stay home as much as possible and to stay out of stores and establishments outside the community.

Health Minister John Haggie said the town’s health-care centre was closed to visitors after two workers tested positive for COVID-19. One provides hands-on care and one works in administration, Haggie said, and all of the residents of the facility have tested negative for the virus. Testing for staff is underway, he said.

In an interview, Harbour Breton Mayor Georgina Ollerhead said concern is high because many residents in the town of about 1,600 are older and more vulnerable. “So one case of COVID is one too many,” Ollerhead said.

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Atlantic Canada’s other island province was also hunkering down in light of confirmed cases whose origins have not yet been traced. P.E.I. reported four new cases of COVID-19 Monday – a woman in her 20s, two men in their 20s and a man in his 30s.

Chief medical officer of health, Dr. Heather Morrison, said all four cases were close contacts with other cases announced over the weekend.

“The fact that there is no connection to recent out-of-province travel is very concerning,” Morrison said at a news conference in Charlottetown. “I continue to be worried about what is currently happening with COVID-19 in our province.”

New Brunswick, meanwhile, lifted restrictions in the Moncton and Fredericton health regions on Monday thanks to a declining COVID-19 caseload. Health officials reported two new cases of COVID-19, a person in their 40s in the Fredericton region and a person in their 70s in the Edmundston area.

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Both cases are self-isolating and under investigation. The province currently has 81 active cases with three patients hospitalized – two are in intensive care.

Read more: Nova Scotia to receive 1,950 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, dry run of distribution this week

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia reported eight new cases for a total of 90 active cases.

Four were in the Halifax area, including a case reported at Ian Forsyth Elementary School in Dartmouth. Two other cases were reported in the western zone, including one at Berwick and District School and one related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada, while the remaining two cases were in the eastern zone.

One of the eastern zone cases was travel-related while the other was under investigation.

In a new release, Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, noted a decline in case numbers in recent days.

“While this is good news, it is does not mean that COVID-19 is no longer a risk,” Strang said. “If we don’t follow all the public health measures, we could easily see a spike in cases.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2020.

– With files from Sarah Smellie in St. John’s and Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.

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