New Brunswick’s mandatory order expires at 11:59 Friday night, effectively lifting all provincial COVID-19 restrictions.
This comes as regions elsewhere confront the possibility of a Delta variant-fuelled fourth wave.
Despite what lay ahead, the province’s premier remains firm: now is the time to end restrictions.
“No hospitalization, case counts in the younger population and no one that’s really sick in that sense? You can’t justify staying under an emergency order,” Premier Blaine Higgs says.
The province logged seven new COVID-19 cases Friday for an active total of 19 – the highest count in 26 days.
Still, Higgs says it’s time for New Brunswick to transition to living with the virus.
“If it doesn’t have an effect on hospitals, it’s like living with the flu,” he says.
In the Department of Health’s COVID-19 news release Thursday it announced the daily release would cease with the lifting of the mandatory order, meaning daily case counts would require a bit of math while looking at the province’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The focus is now shifting, as Higgs says, to hospitalizations and whether they might put strain on the health-care system.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if we thought there was a risk of that,” says Higgs.
“But will there be a risk of cases? Yes. So I guess it’s like, let’s prepare to live with COVID but do it in a way that’s socially acceptable.”
Forty-six New Brunswickers have so far died due to COVID-19 – lower than seven of the country’s other provinces, but still a number not lost on Higgs.
“I recall vividly the first fatality and I was quite shook up by that because I just thought, what could we have done differently?”
Higgs says he has hope that continued efforts to vaccinate the population will help keep that figure comparatively low in New Brunswick.
Among the successes the province has seen amidst the pandemic, the premier points to the unique all-party cabinet committee that came to formulate some of the steps taken these past 17 months.
“It was a combined team effort,” he says.
“That should build confidence in what our potential is going forward.”
Higgs says stepping into the role of premier in 2018 he never imagined he’d work so closely with the chief medical officer of health, whom he sat beside dozens of times at afternoon COVID-19 briefings.
“We’ve had our afternoon television series that will be missed, I would say, between General Hospital and Another World.”
“People got very accustomed to that,” he says with a laugh.
The end of provincial COVID-19 restrictions comes at the tip of the August long weekend, with many in the province off work Monday for New Brunswick Day.
Just in time, says Higgs.
“I’m hoping there won’t be massive gatherings at midnight, but in some areas there might be some parties or a countdown and throwing of masks,” he says.
Asked if this – or another mandatory order – could be brought back if COVID-19 counts creep up once more, Higgs says that isn’t off the table.