EDITOR’S NOTE: There will be no COVID-19 news release or dashboard update Jan. 1-2. Information from those days will be provided on Jan. 3.

FREDERICTON (GNB) – The provincial government is introducing new measures to mitigate impacts on the health-care system and other critical infrastructure in response to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“Some of the elements of this strategy are a significant departure from what we have done so far,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health. “This new approach has been considered very carefully by Public Health. We feel strongly that these are the best actions we can take to manage risk, support critical infrastructure and minimize as much as possible the disruption of New Brunswickers’ lives.”

The following measures will come into effect on Tuesday, Jan. 4, at 11:59 p.m.:

PCR tests will be reserved for:

  • People in areas at highest risk, including health-care workers and those who live or work in long-term care facilities, homeless shelters and correctional facilities.
  • People who are symptomatic and aged 50 and over.
  • People who are symptomatic and immunocompromised or pregnant.
  • People who need a PCR test for travel.
  • People who are identified as a priority by Public Health.

Everyone else, including those who are symptomatic but under 50 and do not live in a vulnerable setting, will be advised to take point-of-care rapid tests when symptomatic. A positive rapid test will be treated as a positive result for COVID-19 and people will be asked to register their result through a new form that will be available online next week. They will also need to follow new isolation guidelines.

Public Health is introducing a shorter isolation period for people who have tested positive. This change is being introduced to help prevent staff shortages among those who support critical infrastructure, including health care, long-term care, power, water, law enforcement, transportation, food security, child care and education.

Vaccinated people who have tested positive, as well as vaccinated, asymptomatic, close household contacts, will need to isolate for five days. Unvaccinated people who have tested positive, as well as unvaccinated, asymptomatic, household contacts, will need to isolate for 10 days.

Close contacts outside of a household will be asked to mask continuously, avoid vulnerable settings and people, and limit their contacts as much as possible for at least 10 days.

Upon release from isolation, people must wear a mask continuously and avoid vulnerable settings and gatherings for the next five days. If a close contact develops symptoms, they will be directed to take a rapid test, unless they meet the requirements for a PCR test.

Due to the high number of cases and lack of resources, contact tracing among the general public is no longer feasible. Instead, people who test positive will be asked to notify their close contacts and members of their household. Case and contact tracing will be reserved mostly for people in vulnerable settings to help prevent transmission among those who are most likely to be hospitalized.

“We must continue to listen to Public Health and to follow their lead as we learn more about the Omicron variant,” said Premier Blaine Higgs. “We must remain vigilant, monitor for symptoms, keep our contacts low and follow public health measures.”

Schools moving to home learning

Due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, students will not return to public schools on Jan. 10 but will move to home learning beginning Jan. 11. This measure will remain in place for at least two weeks and will then be assessed weekly.

“I know this situation is not ideal,” said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy. “In-person learning is more effective for many students. I know students rely on services and programs for mental health and food security that are delivered through the schools.”

The current interim measures for school sports and extracurricular activities will remain in place during this time. These measures include no organized sport or other organized activities for children under 12. For those 12 and older, practices and skills drills are permitted involving only one team at a time.

Cardy also announced new Public Health guidance for early childhood education facilities. Although a child or staff member will still not be permitted to attend if a new or worsening symptom develops, they will now be able to return once they have a negative rapid test. Children or staff with a constant and recurring symptom, such as seasonal allergies, may continue attending without a test.

Impact on health system

Hospitals in both the Horizon and Vitalité health authorities will be providing emergency or urgent services only. Non-urgent and elective surgeries, procedures and lab services will be postponed.

“I understand the impact this will have on many patients who are waiting for surgeries or diagnostic tests,” said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard. “I share my sympathies with the patients and families who will be affected by this necessary change. Unfortunately, the Omicron variant is already worsening staff shortages in the health system and we expect this situation will become even more challenging as we live through this latest wave of COVID-19.”

190 recoveries / 682 cases

Public Health is reporting 190 recoveries and 682 new cases of COVID-19 today.

There are 21 people in intensive care and another 24 are in hospital for a total of 45 people hospitalized. Of those in hospital, 29 are over the age of 60 and 11 people are on a ventilator. No one under 19 is currently hospitalized. The seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations is available on the COVID-19 dashboard.

The rate of people hospitalized and in ICU continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated. Information about the rates of cases and hospitalizations based on vaccination status, the age and origin of new cases, and additional information, is available on the COVID-19 dashboard.

Of the new cases today, 228 are in Zone 1 (Moncton region), 265 are in Zone 2 (Saint John region), 43 are in Zone 3 (Fredericton region), 100 are in Zone 4 (Edmundston region), three are in Zone 5 (Campbellton region), 26 are in Zone 6 (Bathurst region) and 17 are in Zone 7 (Miramichi region).

A person 50-59 in Zone 2 (Saint John region) has died as a result of COVID-19.

Public Health reported today that 82.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 90.2 per cent have received their first dose of a vaccine and 20.3 per cent have received a booster dose.

To preserve the supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supply for future booster clinics for those aged 12 to 29, current eligible groups will be offered Moderna at booster clinics, regardless of which vaccine was administered for previous doses.

Learn more

All of New Brunswick is in the Level 2 phase of the winter plan to manage COVID-19. More information on the COVID-19 alert system, including guidance on public health measures, restrictions and the mandatory order, is available online.

Other useful links: