On Tuesday, the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton regions joined Edmundston in the coronavirus red alert level, but Premier Blaine Higgs is already warning that if case numbers fail to improve, parts of the province could head into a “lockdown” as early as the end of the week.
“We are deciding what a lockdown looks like this week and if we don’t see immediate results over these coming days, then certainly we won’t be afraid to take the next step by the end of the week if necessary,” said Higgs at Tuesday’s COVID-19 update.
What exactly a further, more restrictive alert level would look like is not immediately clear. When the province moved to a colour-coded phase approach in April, red was the most restrictive level and looked somewhat similar to what New Brunswickers endured in March.
Now the red phase has been loosened to allow schools and retail businesses to stay open, a shift from last April. Hairdressers and gyms are closed, but many other non-essential workplaces are able to remain open with a COVID-19 operational plan in place.
Higgs said it has been up to workplaces to decide if they want their employees there in person, or to work from home, but an additional lockdown phase would take that choice away.
“If we lockdown it becomes a different scenario,” Higgs said.
“It’s a whole different ball game, it’s ‘OK, what’s running, what’s not running.'”
Public health is currently crafting what exactly a lockdown could look like and what the triggers would be to send various zones into an even more restrictive phase. Dr. Jennifer Russell said they hope to brief cabinet on Thursday with updates on both fronts.
While the exact details are yet to be ironed out, Higgs says a lockdown likely wouldn’t be a large departure from what happened between March and April of last year.
“You can just go back to last spring, and you can go back to when we didn’t know where this was going to go and we shut down early and we shut down hard. You can look around the country at what other provinces are doing,” he said.
Higgs warned that the province is “on the cusp” of a lockdown and mused that officials will not wait until after things are out of control to act.
For now, the province is asking people to act responsibly and follow the rules. While shops remain open, Higgs has advised that people “don’t make that extra stop” and that only one member of each household should go grocery shopping.
But unless outcomes improve, the province could take away the choice, pointing to curfews and stay-at-home-orders recently imposed elsewhere.
“We do not want to be in a situation like we’ve seen our neighbours in Quebec or Ontario,” Higgs said.
“We don’t want to be too late in reacting and say ‘only if.'”