New Brunswick is loosening COVID-19 restrictions and entering Level 2 of its winter plan two days earlier than planned, but the province’s top doctor cautions people cannot “only expect smooth sailing ahead.”
The province will enter modified Level 2 restrictions at 11:59 p.m. Friday. Initially, the change was set for Monday.
Schools will re-open for in-person learning. Retail businesses, gyms, and spas can open and indoor-dining at restaurants can resume at 50 per cent capacity and with proof of vaccination.
During a briefing on Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said that tighter restrictions that were brought in on Jan. 14 have meant that the spread of the virus “has been less aggressive than worst case scenario.”
She said the seven-day average of new cases is trending downward.
“This time has been challenging for everyone and I want you to know that your efforts have made a difference,” she said.
“You have helped us blunt the impact of this latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
She added that while the province “achieved what we wanted to” by having people reduce contacts by 30 per cent and therefore slow hospitalizations, the number of people admitted to hospital will continue to rise for the next two to three weeks. Part of the reason is because entering Level 2 will increase interactions between people.
She said the restrictions have been effective, but were never meant to “end the pandemic” or the Omicron wave.
“We have the skills to live safely with COVID, which will be our (goal) in the weeks and months ahead,” she said.
Officials announced three more deaths from COVID-19 in the province and said there are 141 people in hospital due to the disease, including eight in intensive care.
Russell pointed out that when Level 3 restrictions were brought in, they were responding to a dire situation and that they were expecting over 200 hospitalizations by the end of January if no action was taken.
Premier Blaine Higgs added that government will do all it can to prevent future lockdowns, noting that people have grown weary of restrictions.
“Level 3 was tough for so many, including our small business owners,” he said.
Both Higgs and Russell said the two-week lockdown allowed the province to push forward with its vaccination and booster campaigns.
Higgs said the ability to open up the province was made possible, in part, to vaccination rates and the use of proof-of-vaccination policies.
“As a province we have to get on in life, and I don’t want to leave anybody behind in this process,” Higgs said, noting the importance of vaccinations.
“Do your part, don’t risk yourself and others. But we can’t wait for that.”