FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's health minister on Friday released her government's strategy to fight COVID-19 during the winter months, warning residents that holiday gatherings could lead to a new spike in infections.
"The plan, when combined with vaccination and public health guidelines, will reduce the spread of the virus," Dorothy Shephard told reporters. The three-level plan will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday night, she said.
The province will start at level one, which includes a private indoor gathering limit of 20 people, similar to current rules. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 50 people, and masks will be required in outdoor spaces when physical distancing can't be maintained.
"The winter action plan has two more levels that include further measures, including reduced household bubbles; lower capacities in public spaces, such as retail and restaurants; and no travel into or out of areas at level two or level three," Shephard said.
"Criteria has been identified that would cause public health to look closer at what is occurring in specific areas or zones," she added. "These criteria are based on things like the number of active cases, the rate of positive tests and hospitalizations."
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell reported 97 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and two more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. The deaths involved a person in their 70s in the Moncton region and someone in their 50s in the Fredericton area, she said.
The province has 711 active reported infections and 49 people hospitalized with the disease, including 16 in intensive care.
Shephard told reporters 55 people are isolating and being monitored after they recently returned from countries in southern Africa, where the Omicron variant of the virus is circulating.
Russell said everyone wants a Christmas season that is as normal as possible, adding that by releasing its winter plan early, the government is giving residents a few weeks to plan their holiday events safely.
She said, however, she's concerned there will be a post-holiday spike in cases.
"I'm absolutely concerned about that," Russell said. "Obviously with this new variant of concern, it's even more challenging in terms of what the scenario could look like."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press