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EDITORIAL: N.B. outbreak shows pandemic is not over

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs announces an urgent nursing home placement process during a press briefing on Tuesday, one of the measures introduced by the provincial government to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs. - Contributed

New Brunswickers have every reason to boast about how they’ve dealt with the coronavirus. Their province’s strict border control measures and adoption of social distancing rules has resulted in only 126 cases in the province and zero deaths.

It’s a striking accomplishment for a province positioned next door to Quebec, home to the country’s worst outbreak, with 49,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths, and on the other side, Nova Scotia, with more than 1,000 cases and 59 deaths.

For weeks, very few cases had been found, and testing had begun to wane.

That allowed some relaxation of the rules, and like elsewhere, people were looking forward to enjoying the fine late spring weather a bit freer from restrictions on movement and association.

Perhaps that led to a form of complacency or to a sense that the pandemic was over at last.

For one physician, at least, after a personal trip to Quebec, it seemed to mean a feeling that the mandatory two weeks’ isolation after travelling out of province wasn’t necessary.

Eight cases have now been linked to the doctor, including two health-care workers and a person in their 90s. The doctor saw patients for two weeks before the positive cases emerged, exposing at least 150 people.

Now, the province is dealing with a new disease hotbed in the zone surrounding Campbellton, and has had to backtrack on lifting of restrictions in that zone. Now, gyms and swimming pools can’t re-open and religious services, funerals and outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people cannot take place until June 5.

The local hospital has had to close its ER, cancel surgeries and non-urgent services and limit visitors.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was scathing on Thursday.

“We are still contact tracing, but we know this zone is currently at a higher risk due to actions of one irresponsible individual.” Officials expect more cases will emerge, and Higgs would not rule out criminal charges. The doctor has been suspended.

It’s a cautionary tale for all of us. That the selfish act of one person in this pandemic can cause so much upheaval for thousands demonstrates how connected we all are, how much responsibility we bear for each other’s safety and how important it is to follow the rules. The pandemic is not over.

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