Officials in Prince Edward Island introduced what they described as new “circuit-breaker measures” on Saturday in an effort to curb a recent spike in the province’s long-standing low COVID-19 case count.
The discovery of six new infections prompted the announcement from Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Heather Morrison and Premier Dennis King, who said the latest diagnoses cannot be linked to travel outside the province.
Officials are acting under the assumption that they are a contagious new variant of COVID-19 that first emerged in the United Kingdom and was detected on the Island earlier this month, they added.
“We need to wrap our arms around this virus and prevent it from spreading to the full extent that we can,” King said at a Saturday afternoon briefing.
“We will continue to ask people to stay apart as much as possible while at the same time being as active socially and physically as possible because we have learned over time how important both those aspects are to our overall well-being.”
The new restrictions, which take effect on Sunday and last for two weeks, will limit gatherings to an immediate household, plus a consistent circle of 10 contacts.
Sporting events, tournaments and competitions will be banned but team practices can continue.
Organized gatherings for concerts, worship services and movies will be limited to 50 people while gyms, museums, retail stores and libraries can operate at half-capacity with additional cleaning measures in place.
Restaurants can remain open for takeout and delivery only, while personal services may operate on an appointment basis provided masks are worn.
The tighter restrictions are needed to “interrupt the chain of transmission,” Morrison said.
“As this outbreak continues to evolve in the coming days, we are expecting to receive more positive cases,” she said.
“This outbreak is likely going to get worse before it begins to get better.”
Her comments came as the province reported six new COVID-19 infections, all among patients in their 20s.
The province has recorded 14 new cases in four days – 12 of which have no connection to travel outside the province.
Prince Edward Island has remained relatively unscathed by the pandemic, going long stretches without new infections.
The province last introduced a circuit-breaker lockdown in early December after counting seven new cases over the course of one weekend.
The initial lockdown, which closed restaurants, libraries and fitness facilities, was eased after a week. The province then introduced rules closer to the ones being implemented now, which were in place until early January.
King said the current outbreak is not only disappointing but also worrisome, as the province is operating under the assumption that the new cases are a more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus.
“It’s discouraging from the perspective of all Islanders simply because we’ve done very, very well to date and we can see the finish line but we do seem to be stuck in this tangled spider’s web of COVID and it won’t really let us out of its grip.”