New Brunswick will be lifting all remaining COVID-19 restrictions on March 14, and removing the proof of vaccination policy as of Feb. 28.
“We can manage living with COVID and we’re seeing it across our country,” Premier Blaine Higgs said during a briefing on Thursday.
“And so we are finding ways to do that like every other province and country and it’s important we do so.”
He said sacrifices made by the majority, which included getting vaccinated and adhering to restrictions, “is what got us here today.”
“I want to be clear that we are in a position to be able to lift measures because the majority of New Brunswickers have done the right thing throughout this pandemic,” he said.
“You did this because you understand that it is more than about individual rights.”
When all mandated public health measures end on March 14, masking will no longer be required in public spaces. Capacity limits and physical distancing will end, and those who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be required to isolate.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, told reporters at the briefing she still recommends isolation protocols for those who test positive for COVID-19 in high-risk settings, such as long-term care homes, shelters and correctional facilities.
Public health also recommends that all residents, staff and visitors to these facilities continue to wear masks, she said.
Higgs mentioned that while the province is reviewing the vaccination requirement rule for existing government employees, the requirement will remain for new employees.
Mandates will also end in the public school system, although teachers and children may choose to wear masks.
“Everyone must do what they feel is best for them,” Higgs said.
Higgs asked people to be tolerant of what others feel is appropriate for their own risk level.
He said the decision to remove restrictions was made on the advice of public health, due in part to hospitalizations trending downwards.
He noted Horizon and Vitalité health networks have also told him they are “actively transitioning back to normal operations.”
Russell said while this recent Omicron wave was the most difficult stretch of the pandemic for the province, recent restrictions have helped blunt the effects.
She admitted, however, that it’s expected new infections will increase as restrictions end, and people “move about.”
“While the time has come to lift mandatory restrictions, the COVID-19 virus will still be with us for some time to come,” she said.
“But after two years of this pandemic, we have acquired the skills and knowledge we need to protect ourselves against this virus.”
Both Higgs and Russell said there are vulnerable groups – including the elderly and immune-compromised – who will be more at risk. They advised people to continue proper hygiene, getting vaccinated, and staying home when feeling ill to protect those around them.
Public health officials in New Brunswick said that as of Thursday there were 77 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, five of whom were in intensive care and two of whom were on ventilators.
The province reported 365 new cases confirmed with a PCR test and 819 new cases confirmed with rapid tests, which are self-reported by residents. Government data shows 87 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated with two doses and 50 per cent have had a booster shot.
The province moved to Level 1 — the least restrictive level of the winter plan — one week ago. That meant that businesses that were previously required to reduce their capacity, such as gyms, restaurants and entertainment centres, were able to open to full capacity.
Level 1 does still require patrons to show proof of vaccination, and masking continues to be mandatory in all indoor public spaces.
Among the Atlantic provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador will also be ending restrictions on March 14, and no longer require proof of vaccination as of that date.
Nova Scotia plans to remove restrictions on March 21, but will end the proof of vaccination policy on Feb. 28.
Prince Edward Island will also end its vaccine passport on Feb 28.
— With a file from The Canadian Press