Rotational workers living in New Brunswick say they’re being targeted unfairly by new COVID-19 self-isolation rules introduced last week by the provincial government.
Workers are required to self-isolate for 14 days and are not allowed to be in a home with other people while in isolation.
The “rotational” nature of their work often means a few weeks at a job site outside New Brunswick followed by a break where workers return to their home province.
Those breaks are often two weeks in length.
Under the previous rules, workers could take a COVID-19 test roughly a week into their self-isolation and, providing the results came back negative, they could shorten their isolation period and interact with loved ones.
But now, Brian Ollivier, a long-time underground miner who had been working in British Columbia, told Global News he quit his job when the new rules came into effect rather than spend his entire two weeks off work in isolation.
“I can’t even do anything now,” he said. “I have to get a hotel room, my own expense, I can’t see my grandchildren, I can’t see my wife. And the whole reason why I leave this province is to provide for my family back here in New Brunswick and come back.”
Ollivier said he’s looking at moving out of New Brunswick because of the changes — and he said he’s not alone.
Fellow miner Mike Kelly is one day into his isolation at his home in Fredericton while his wife, Lisa, and family are staying with her mother 15 minutes away.
He said all rotational workers work toward family time.
“That last few days (of the rotation), you know, chatting,” he began. “‘Oh, I can’t wait to see you. It’s gonna be two more days, one more day.’ And now it’s coming home to nothing and not knowing when I’ll get to see them again.”
Lisa Kelly said she was prepared to have the whole family isolate with her husband at home, but were told by Public Health that it was not allowed under the new rules.
U.K. egg shortage has stores placing purchase limits. Is Canada next?
Bank of Canada expected to deliver interest rate hike next week. How high will it go?
“I can’t see the sense in that at all,” Lisa Kelly said. “So it almost just feels like a punishment at this point. It’s really too bad.”
She said she’s worried about the mental toll the separation is having on her husband, their children and herself.
Mike Kelly said the changes have already had an effect on him.
Several workers in the province launched a Facebook group in an effort to send a joint message to the provincial government to scrap the 14-day total isolation and reinstitute the previously-utilized five-to-seven-day testing program.
Peggy Lee Doody, one of the group’s administrators, said it boasted nearly 800 members in just a few days. Doody, whose husband, Fred, is a rotational worker, said group members are emailing and calling every MLA in the province to get their message across.
“We just want them to realize what they’re doing, and to revert back to the previous mandatory order for rotational workers,” Doody said.
She argues the workers are already isolated enough at their job sites and undergo rigorous COVID-19 testing there.
“It’s safer for them to be (at the job site) than it is to be at Costco,” Doody said.
The lobby effort may be working. Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said a news conference is scheduled for Friday, although she would not provide details.
Shephard said the changes were implemented, in part, due to fear over new variants of coronavirus first discovered in the U.K. and South Africa which have now been detected in Canada.
“We will be looking at that,” Shephard said. “And I believe, by tomorrow’s presser, you may be hearing some tweaks with our system. We understand the struggles that this is going to create.”
But Shephard cautioned that New Brunswick residents have “given a lot of pain and have not even been able to work in their own province.”
She said the intention is to protect the population.
“We can consider that we could allow this freedom and lock down our people who live here every day,” Shephard began. “Or we can, hopefully, give our people a little more freedom and keep our borders a little stricter.”