Public health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador took further steps to curb an exponential surge in COVID-19 cases on Saturday less than 24 hours after cancelling in-person voting for the province's scheduled election.
The latest measures target rotational workers travelling in and out of the province and involve longer self-isolation windows with more stringent testing requirements.
Effective immediately, all rotational workers returning to the province must self-isolate away from families for a full 14 days and can no longer take a COVID-19 test on day seven in a bid to shorten their quarantine, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced.
Any workers who have recently returned to the province and haven’t received their day-seven test will not be able to get one and must start self-isolating away from family members, she added.
Officials reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the province's active case count to 285.
The bulk of the cases in the province's recent spike were identified in younger people, Fitzgerald said.
“We recognized that there were ... larger spreading events that happened over last weekend with students who were playing sports or attending social gatherings together,” she said at a new conference.
“We found a lot of those students very quickly, we tested them very quickly, so of course our numbers are going to be very high at the outset,” she added.
Fitzgerald says while the virus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom is estimated to be 70 per cent more transmissible than the original strain, it isn’t yet known if it causes more serious illness. The abrupt surge that sent the COVID-19 case count across the St. John's area soaring over the past week has been linked to that particular variant.
Officials moved the province to Alert Level 5 on Friday, the most restrictive stage of its COVID-19 response plan, which prohibits gatherings of more than 5 people.
Moving to the most stringent level of public safety measures caused chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk to suspend in-person voting for the province's general election, which was slated to take place on Saturday.
Rather than physically casting ballots to elect a new premier, Residents now have until Monday to apply for a special ballot to access mail-in voting.
“Understandably, Newfoundland and Labrador’s move to Alert Level 5 has caused significant anxiety among the electorate regarding the application process to obtain a special ballot in order to vote in this election,” Chaulk said in a statement Saturday, adding that residents can apply for a special ballot online.
He said the province has already received almost 20,000 applications since he announced the change Friday.
Though the deadline for voting kits to be returned to Elections NL was set on March 1st, Chalk said the situation remains “fluid” and dates will be reevaluated to ensure as many people as possible are assisted in the application process.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2021.
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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press