'I am angry': New Brunswick premier says COVID-19 setback is a wake-up call
HALIFAX -- New Brunswick is pressing the pause button on its Canada-leading reopening plan following a new and growing outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in the Campbellton, N.B., area.
On Wednesday, public health officials revealed that a health-care professional employed at the Campbellton Regional Hospital made a personal trip to Quebec and didn't self-isolate upon return.
The hospital shut down its emergency department Wednesday night and cancelled all non-urgent or elective procedures when it was learned that the employee was in contact with about 50 employees and several patients during a two-week period.
In an interview with CTV Atlantic anchor Steve Murphy, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says he has felt anger at the recent setback, and feels it is a wake-up call for all New Brunswick residents.
“I am angry. It’s difficult to be able to find your true emotion in this,” said Higgs. “I’m still proud of our healthcare workers, I’m still proud of our citizens in the province, it’s just that this is a wake-up call,”
“We have to exercise a level of restraint in how we manage through this so that we don’t throw caution to the wind, but we do it in a manageable way to make sure people know we’re dealing with the issue, we’ll deal with the violation and we will contact trace all over this province to get back on track.”
Six new cases have been confirmed in connection with the employee, and it is estimated at least 150 other people may have been exposed to the virus.
“Here we have a case where multiple contacts were made after the infection. So now we trace those contacts, because it’s in a hospital, and then you look at the hospital and say there may have been transfers out of the hospital. And how many people were working there that had contact? At this point Vitalité are estimating 150, but it could be well beyond that. And that’s the reason, not only have we moved back in this region, but we’ve stalled the next reopening phase for the entire province until we know how widespread this situation is,” said Higgs.
The next phase of New Brunswick’s reopening plan, which was supposed to begin Friday, is delayed for at least a week, until June 5.
“This has created an issue in the province that could have been avoided. It wasn’t related to our recovery measures, it was related to a single act that could have been avoided. So if people think that they're not following the rules isn’t going to be an issue, here’s an example that we can all take to heart, that not only is it an issue, it is an issue for the entire province," said the premier.
When asked if the health-care professional could face charges or be fired, Higgs said that is under investigation.
“It is something that is being investigated right now by the RCMP as well as the Vitalité health authority. I can assure you that they are not practising in the health profession at this time, because of the obvious concerns,” said Higgs. “It isn’t a decision that I will make, it is ultimately a decision that the employer, the Vitalité Health Network will make. But it shows just how the actions of few can have a potential impact on many."
While New Brunswick has slowed down its loosening of restrictions, Higgs says there is no plan to further limit inter-provincial travel at this time, including to neighbouring Prince Edward Island, which will begin accepting applications for season residents on Monday.
“We’ve allowed people moving through our province to other provinces, and we will work with what Premier King is doing, in terms of having entrance papers on being allowed to enter the island,” said Higgs. “We just need to know where people are going, I’m sure that people moving through the area would like to move on through, and that will be fine because those have been our policies all along. I don’t want to hold back other provinces, and I think we can do that safely.”
The six new cases bring the province's total of confirmed cases to 126; 120 of those cases had recovered until the Campbellton cluster emerged.