FREDERICTON -- The New Brunswick government has announced that all non-essential government services will be shut down, beginning Tuesday, March 17, until further notice.

"We are taking action to implement the recommendations we have received from the experts," said Premier Blaine Higgs. "We know that the best and safest place for our workers and their children is at home."

The decision was made based on recommendations by Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, to address the impact of COVID-19. Services such as libraries, museums, theatres, swimming pools, gyms, and spas have been asked to close.

A new case

The announcement comes in the wake of a new presumptive case of COVID-19 in the province, reported Monday afternoon.

The new presumptive case is a woman in her 20s who recently travelled to Greece, bringing the number of presumptive or positive cases in New Brunswick to seven. Two of those cases have been confirmed to be positive.

Russell says the woman has been treated, tested and is in self-isolation. 

Case locations

New Brunswick's public health refers to "zones" when describing where the cases are. There are seven zones.  

The first two cases are in the southeastern zone – which includes Moncton.

The four cases announced on Saturday and Sunday are all in the central zone – which includes Fredericton.

The latest case, announced Monday, is in the southern zone – which includes Saint John.

Four of the cases are in people between 50 and 60 years old, and three of the cases are in people between 20 and 30 years old. It was also revealed that two of the presumptive cases come from the University of New Brunswick and are directly connected to the first travel-related case in the province.

Service shutdowns

"The time is now for all to act to limit the spread of this virus," said Russell at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Russell stressed the importance of social-distancing and proper hygiene in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. In addition, she encouraged private-sector companies to allow employees to work from home.

Based on the recommendation, only those public-sector workers who work in critical functions or areas that support critical functions will remain on the job. They may work on-site or from home, depending on the nature of their job. Those workers sent home will remain on the payroll. Russell also advised companies including arcades, bars, dance clubs and restaurants to take caution.

"We must work together to flatten the curve of this epidemic," said Russell.

Additionally, Russell discouraged travel and asked residents to postpone travel plans.

In response to a recommendation by Russell to close daycares, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Education has developed a response plan to ensure child care is provided to essential workers across the province.

Information for essential service workers will be available through the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's Parent Portal or by calling 1-833-221-9339.

Healthcare matters

Horizon Health's chief of staff, Dr. John Dornan, says its facilities are reducing surgical access only to people who need it "today" – including cancer/limb-saving emergencies and other serious incidents. He noted the case is the same for its ambulatory clinics.

"If someone meets their friend for a cup of coffee at Tim Hortons, picks up a virus which is transmittable for at least a few days, walks into our facilities and interacts with lots of people there, we're sunk," said Dornan.

Premier Blaine Higgs was present at the conference and said an all-party committee will meet on Tuesday at the legislature, but only 15 members will attend, and they will have plenty of distance from each other.

Public Health is also asking restaurant owners to limit the number of customers to 50 per cent of the capacity of their dining areas. Take-out orders, deliveries and drive-thru services are permitted. Cannabis NB and NB Liquor are staying open for the time being.

Meanwhile, health officials say they're adding more people to handle 811 calls -- which are being dialled over 1,000 times a day -- but are asking residents only to call if they have symptoms.