FREDERICTON — New Brunswick partially rolled back its post-pandemic reopening plan on Wednesday, as officials blamed a cluster of new cases on a health-care worker who reportedly travelled outside the province and did not self-isolate upon return.
Public health officials confirmed Wednesday that the province's latest case is a person in their 50s in the Campbellton area in the north of the province, bordering Quebec.
The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said that person was a contact for the two previously reported cases — a young child who attended two daycares, and a senior over the age of 90.
Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs wouldn't say if the person was a doctor or a nurse, but Higgs said they were in contact with a lot of people.
"This is a health-care worker who saw multiple patients over a two-week period following their return to New Brunswick. We are still contact tracing, but we know this zone is at a higher risk due to the actions of one irresponsible individual," Higgs said.
The Vitalite Health Network announced Wednesday that the Campbellton Regional Hospital is closing its emergency department and cancelling all non-urgent or elective services for 24 hours "due to the high risk of transmission of COVID-19."
It said the measure was needed "to limit transmission of the virus originating from a member of the facility's health care staff."
The province moved to the "yellow" phase of its COVID recovery plan last week, allowing larger groups of people to meet and more businesses and services to open. Russell said Wednesday the Campbellton region will have to take a step backwards to the "orange" level.
"This means that residents of the Campbellton-Dalhousie region should avoid contacts outside their two-household bubble and non-regulated health professionals and personal service businesses that opened up last Friday will again have to be closed," she said.
Russell said people in the region, which extends from Whites Brook to the Belledune, should try to remain at home for the next two weeks and not travel outside the area known as "Zone 5."
She said New Brunswickers need to trust each other, but some people aren't taking the health concerns seriously.
She said she expects there will be more cases of COVID-19 in the province as a result, but is hoping they will be confined to one area. Mobile testing units will be in place Thursday, she said.
Higgs said people should only be travelling in and out of Zone 5 for essential reasons — which he said doesn't include getting a haircut.
The premier was clearly frustrated while announcing the details Wednesday and said the individual could face charges.
"Was this what would appear to be an apparent violation of our current rules? If indeed that is the case, we will move forward with understanding and if charges need to be laid, they will," Higgs said.
As of Wednesday, New Brunswick has had 123 cases of COVID-19 and 120 have recovered.
The latest cases follow a protest last week by more than 400 people from Campbellton and the Quebec communities of Pointe-a-la-Croix and Listuguj First Nation, calling for a "bubble" to be created between them.
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said the protest on the bridge linking the two provinces should never have been allowed to happen.
"You can't have citizens crossing the border and shaking hands and hugging each other between Quebec and New Brunswick. That is just ludicrous at this point in time during a pandemic," he said Wednesday.
Austin said strong border controls need to be maintained, but the cases in the Campbellton area should not affect the restoration of business, services and recreation in the rest of the province.
"You can't make the whole province suffer because of an outbreak in a certain area," Austin said.
Neighbouring Prince Edward Island is expected to release details this week on plans to allow people with seasonal cottages to head to the Island.
It's expected cottagers will have to complete an application process and prove their ability to self-isolate for 14 days.
Many of them will have to travel through New Brunswick to get to P.E.I.
Higgs said Wednesday it won't be possible to guarantee that those travellers won't stop for food or other shopping while passing through the province.
He said they have to use the honour system, and he won't be blocking travel.
"It's important that we find ways to work together and let provinces do what they feel is right," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2020.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press