New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced on Friday that the province has created a three-level action plan to curb COVID-19 spread during the winter.
Shephard said as the weather gets colder, more New Brunswickers are staying inside, where the risk of COVID-19 spread is greater.
She said the first level of the winter action plan will go into effect on Saturday at 11:59 p.m. and will remain until the spring.
The first level is similar to current COVID-19 restrictions in the province, but with a couple of differences.
Informal indoor gatherings in homes are limited to a maximum of 20 people and informal outdoor gatherings will be limited to 50.
“However, everyone should keep their contacts as low as possible,” she said.
Shephard recommended that unvaccinated individuals should avoid indoor gatherings as they are at a greater risk of contracting and becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
As well, masks will be required in outdoor public spaces where physical distancing cannot be maintained, and physical distancing will be required in public spaces where proof-of-vaccination is not required, such as malls, grocery stores, retail stores, salons and spas.
Shephard said businesses have the option to either enforce physical distancing or check for proof-of-vaccination.
She said the other two levels of the action plan will have more stringent rules, which may include reduced household bubbles, lower capacity in spaces and limited travel in and out of impacted areas.
The criteria to determine a change in level will be based on factors like the number of active cases, rate of positive tests and hospitalizations.
Shephard acknowledged that many people are “tired and frustrated” with the pandemic, but warned that more restrictions could come.
“Everyone wants to have as normal a Christmas as possible and we want that for you,” she said.
“The power to keep us in level one is in our own hands. While government can come up with requirements and recommendations, it is up to each individual to do the right thing.”
A full list of the action plan levels and what they entail can be found on the Government of New Brunswick website.
97 new cases, 2 deaths
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell also announced that two more people have died as a result of COVID-19.
The province reported 97 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. With 75 recoveries, there are now 711 active cases.
Russell noted that unvaccinated people continue to be overrepresented in the case numbers and urged people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“As the unvaccinated are a much smaller slice of the province’s population, they are disproportionately represented in our case numbers,” she said.
Russell said Friday’s cases translate to 8.8 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 vaccinated New Brunswickers. For people who are unvaccinated, that rate is 32.9.
“That’s nearly four times that of those who are fully vaccinated,” said Russell.
As well, the rate of ICU admissions for unvaccinated people is more than 10 times higher than for those who are fully vaccinated.
She said next week, COVID-19 booster shot eligibility will be expanded to people in their 50s, followed by people in their 40s in the coming weeks.
As well, the province is currently monitoring 55 New Brunswickers who have recently travelled to an area where the new Omicron variant is present.