New Brunswick opposition parties question government’s pandemic response

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WATCH: The debate over how the government in New Brunswick is handling the current fourth wave of COVID-19 continues. Tough allegations and questions are being raised by opposition parties. As Nathalie Sturgeon reports, some are wondering why more isn’t being done to curb the spread of the virus. – Dec 10, 2021

The record-breaking COVID-19 case counts in New Brunswick are prompting a lot of political debate about how the provincial government is handling the fourth wave.

In the past two days, the province has recorded 317 new COVID-19 cases, with 109 cases as the running average for the past week. On Friday, one third of the cases reported were in children under the age of 19. Sixty-one were in the Fredericton region. The active case count in New Brunswick is 971 with 139 deaths since the pandemic began.

But Public Health says there is no need for any new restrictions.

Read more: COVID-19: No new restrictions as N.B. reports 143 new cases, 1 death

The government’s response to the criticism is to focus on how the healthcare system is fairing — looking at hospitalizations and ICU admissions, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said.

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“The big issue now is how do we deal with it,” she said.

“People know how to protect themselves, right? Keep your contacts low, keep your inner circles small, get vaccinated. That is our number one protection against hospitalizations, ICU admission, and death.”

Both Shephard and Premier Blaine Higgs say New Brunswickers “know what they need to do to protect themselves.”

“I think it’s New Brunswick deciding we want to have a life here,” Higgs said speaking to reporters on Thursday. “I don’t think that people are in any situation now … that they’d accept lockdowns or shutdowns we had before because they’d say look ‘we’re 80 to 95 per cent vaccinated, what was the point?'”

Read more: New Brunswick Liberals call for review of government’s pandemic response

But those explanations have not eased the mind of Green Party leader David Coon.

“It seems that government has taken this position that Public Health isn’t going to do anything anymore, that we’re going to live with COVID and this is the reality we’re living with,” he said on Friday. “So, back in the summer the government declared victory, and now they are declaring defeat.”

Case numbers began climbing in August, almost immediately after experts began warning about the fourth wave and the Delta variant. By that time, all restrictions had been lifted in the province.

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On September 20, the province reinstated mandatory masks amid record shattered case counts and deaths.

More than half the deaths reported in New Brunswick have been reported since restrictions were lifted in July.

‘Circuit breakers’ were introduced in Zone 1 on Oct. 5, with several other zones or parts of them joining later on.

Coon said this timeline, and a lack of further action, have left New Brunswickers feeling abandoned.

“They are not hearing from the Public Health officials they employ,” he said.

Read more: COVID-19: N.B. sets daily record with 174 new cases, 2 more deaths

Messaging from the health minister and the province’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Russell are essentially telling New Brunswickers they are on their own, he said.

“People want to hear what Public Health is thinking without being filtered through,” he said. “It’s just BS.”

Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson, who tabled a motion for an independent review into the handling of the pandemic, said he feels the government is out of solutions.

“I think they’ve got to look at all options,” he said, referring to increasing restrictions or another lockdown.

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But with the holiday season fast approaching, the province is not indicating a move of any health zones to the second or third level of the Winter Action Plan.

The classification of “community transmission” can be found under the case origin tab.

“Contact tracing is being managed,” she said. “We probably won’t be able to (do) contract tracing for all the cases and some of them we don’t even know where they came from.”

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