Changes to capacity levels and traveller restrictions begin as early as this weekend
By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press Incorporated
The COVID-19 update for Newfoundland and Labrador took place on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 3 with Premier Andrew Furey, Health and Community Services Minister, John Haggie, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald. The briefing included an update that the Modified Alert Level 4 will drop to a Modified Alert Level 3 beginning on Monday Feb. 7. Premier Furey said the drop has to do with the excellent vaccination rates in the province.
“Come Monday, we will be able to be open up a little bit more, from businesses to simply being able to see some more family and friends. In addition, the isolation requirements for travellers into our province are lifting as well. Starting this weekend, people simply need to use the rapid test provided – no isolation required.”
What Modified Alert Level 3 means is that gyms and fitness facilities can expand to 50 per cent capacity, restaurants to 50 per cent capacity with a maximum 10-person table size and physical distancing between tables, bars can reopen at 50 per cent capacity, dance floors are not permitted at this time, cinemas, performance spaces, and bingo halls open with 50 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is lower. Contacts are limited to a person’s ‘tight-20′.
Premier Furey said updates on the current alert level are available on the government website in what he hopes is an easy-to-follow format.
“We appreciate that this is constantly changing, and it can get confusing. We’re doing our best to make sure the communication is clear and concise and easy to follow, and we will try to continue to do so with this as we go from modified to modified. We are working hard to make sure we are communicating.”
Currently there are 1,720 active cases in the province. Since the update yesterday there have been 198 new active cases with 41 of those cases being in the Western Region. There are 20 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and there was one death in the Eastern Region. On a positive note, there have been 372 new recoveries.
With the cases of COVID-19 in the province remaining at higher levels, the question was raised about whether it was truly safe to lower the alert level at this time, especially for those who are immunocompromised.
Dr. Fitzgerald said there will be no way to stop the virus from spreading, but the necessary tools are available for people to protect themselves.
“Getting back to zero like we have done previously, it’s not an expectation that we can meet at this point. It’s just the virus, its behaviour doesn’t allow us to do that.”
One of the necessary tools are the booster shots that have been readily available across the province, and there are updates to the NLVAXPASS that will allow individuals to enter their updated vaccination record to include their booster dose.
“No one wants these VaxPasses. We don’t want them. No one wants them, but they are an important instrument at this time to ensure we get through this wave and if it alters people’s behaviour to ensure that they make the right decision to get boosted so we can all live a more free life, that’s an important instrument that I’m not willing to take off the table at this point in time.”
Minister Haggie agreed the NLVAXPASS is important to encourage people to make the right decision to protect themselves and others, but it is always being reviewed as scenarios change.
“It has worked. We saw a significant bump in our second doses and first doses, particularly in younger folk when that was introduced, and warning given that it will happen. If we find ourselves challenged to get boosters, it’s certainly another tool in our toolbox and we’ll keep looking at it.”
Premier Furey said it is not out of the realm of possibility that more vaccinations could be necessary as more variants of COVID become prevalent.
“Certainly, this virus doesn’t exist in isolation in Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador, it exists around the world. As we’ve seen, new variants can creep up and in all likelihood, there will be other variants. As Dr. Fitzgerald has suggested, no one has a crystal ball, but in all likelihood, there is a strong possibility that we will require vaccines into the future with respect to COVID variants.”