Premier Blaine Higgs says nearly all COVID-19 restrictions in New Brunswick will be gone by March 14, though provincial employees will still need to get vaccinated for now.
The first of the measures will be the requirement to present proof of vaccination in places such as restaurants, theaters and gymnasiums, which will be abandoned at 12:01 a.m. on February 28, Higgs announced Thursday.
All remaining demands from the public — regarding limits on gatherings, isolation requirements and indoor and outdoor masking — will end with the end of the mandatory order at 12:01 a.m. on March 14, he told reporters during of a briefing.
At the same time, Higgs pointed to his government’s decision last fall to require all provincial employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and said those who refused would remain on unpaid leave for the time being.
“We haven’t made a decision on when they can return to work and under what conditions,” Higgs said, answering questions from reporters.
“As we lift the measures, we will review all of our pandemic policies, including mandatory vaccination for existing employees,” Higgs said, adding that vaccination continues to be a requirement for new employees.
Higgs said other employers, including regional health authorities, will still have the ability to require employees to be vaccinated.
Higgs opened his remarks at the COVID briefing by condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, which came under attack on Thursday morning.
He was the last of the Atlantic premiers to announce the lifting of restrictions.
On Wednesday, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston announced that the province would drop all COVID-19 restrictions by March 21.
This followed Newfoundland and Labrador’s announcement last week that it planned to remove all restrictions, including mask and vaccination mandates, by March 14. Prince Edward Island has announced similar plans.
“I am very pleased today to be able to say that, as demonstrated by public health modeling, the number of hospitalizations continues to decline, putting less strain on our healthcare system,” Higgs said.
“Horizon and Vitalité say they are managing the situation and actively returning to normal operations.
Higgs said the end of the mandatory order on March 14 will also apply to public school students, who will no longer be required to wear masks or practice physical distancing.
“However, students and staff who wish to continue wearing masks, like everyone else, will of course be able to do so,” Higgs said.
“We have to recognize that some will be more comfortable with these changes than others and some will need the extra protection that masking will give them.”
No new deaths
An update to New Brunswick’s COVID-19 dashboard on Thursday shows there were no new deaths attributed to COVID-19 for a second straight day, leaving the total death toll at 300.
Hospitalizations increased by three, bringing the total number to 77 in the province. Of these, 36 are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 41 are hospitalized with COVID-19.
Five people are in intensive care, one less than the day before, while two people are on ventilators, one less than yesterday.
The government dashboard also shows a breakdown of people in hospital by age group, but does not distinguish the number of people in hospital with COVID versus those in hospital with COVID.
They include five people in their twenties, two people in their thirties, three people in their forties, one of whom is in intensive care, six people in their fifties, nine people in their sixties, two of whom are in intensive care, 24 people in their sixties, of whom two in intensive care. USI, 18 octogenarians and 5 octogenarians.
A breakdown of cases
Public Health reported 365 new cases confirmed using laboratory PCR tests and another 819 cases confirmed using rapid home tests, which are self-reported.
The number of active COVID-19 cases in the province confirmed using PCR lab tests is 3,408, which is an increase from yesterday’s active case count of 3,309.
Distribution of cases by health zone:
Moncton Area, Zone 1
110 new cases out of 1,199 active
Saint John Area, Zone 2
78 new cases out of 694 active
Fredericton Area, Zone 3
80 new cases out of 700 active
Edmundston area, Zone 4
17 new cases 283 active
Campbellton area, zone 5
20 new cases out of 110 active
Bathurst area, Zone 6
50 new cases out of 263 active
Miramichi Region, Zone 7
10 new cases out of 159 active
Impact on health care, school systems
The province is reporting that 408 healthcare workers are in isolation due to COVID-19, an increase of four from yesterday.
They include 130 employees from Vitalité Health Network, 221 from Horizon Health Network and 57 from Extra-Mural and Ambulance NB.
The Department of Education is reporting 423 new cases of COVID-19 in 145 schools across the province on Thursday.
They include 128 cases in zone 1, 124 in zone 2, 135 in zone 3, 21 in zone 4, three in zone 5, 20 in zone 6 and 12 in zone 7.
There have been 10,258 cases in 290 schools since September 7, 2021.