Newfoundland and Labrador is intensifying its social distancing protocols as public health officials announce its ninth case of COVID-19.
On Sunday, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health, confirmed two of the three new cases are travel-related, and the other is still under investigation.
All of the cases have been detected in women in the Eastern Health Region.
“This is not unexpected,” said Fitzgerald. “We are doing more testing, we are actively looking for contacts — finding new cases means our public health system is working as it should.
“I want to stress this does not mean the measures we have put in place are not working.”
The nine cases include six presumptive and three confirmed diagnoses. None of those patients have been hospitalized to date.
As of Sunday, 970 people have been tested, 961 of whom do not have the virus. Mobile testing units are up and running in all four regional health zones.
“We are at the beginning of this in Newfoundland and Labrador, and while to some, nine may not seem like a lot, how we behave now will determine how COVID-19 will progress,” said Fitzgerald.
She said it’s difficult to estimate when case numbers will peak in the province, but she wouldn’t be surprised to see double-digits in the near future.
Health Minister John Haggie said the province is investigating the possibility of bringing recently retired respiratory therapists and other personnel back into the fold to operate ventilators, if it comes to that.
Also on Sunday, the government announced to support for early childhood educators, parents and students struggling to deal with lost work, income and child care as a result of the pandemic.
“Our government will provide funding to regulated childcare centres and regulated family care homes,” said Premier Dwight Ball.
“We have always said, this crisis could continue for months, so this assistance will be in place until April 30 and will be reassessed if necessary.
Regulated childcare centres will continue to receive operating grants, ensuring stable wages and benefits for staff. The support will be retroactive to March 17 and 19, the closure dates for childcare centres and family childcare homes, respectively. Families will be reimbursed for fees paid after that date.
Beginning March 30, the government has also suspended interest on and payment of all provincial student loans until Sept. 30.
Earlier on Sunday, the province shut down most of its customer service desks in an effort to further prevent the spread of virus. That includes counters at the Motor Registration Division, Government Services Centres, Commercial Registrations Division, and Central Cashiers Office within the Department of Finance.
The government is asking the public to use its web services as much as possible, and make payments and requests online, by email or over the phone.
Details, including web links, mailing addresses and phone numbers, can be found here.
Last night, the province posted a form for reporting members of the public who are not respecting self-isolation and social distancing requirements. That form has sparked some concerns about public privacy, given that it asks for names and addresses.
“It would be down to the individuals looking at those forms, how to investigate that and verify that information. Some of the challenges are around the details,” said Haggie.
The province has declared a public health emergency, ordering anyone crossing its borders to self-isolate for two weeks, even if they’re coming from another Canadian province. Those entering will receive forms with more information on the requirement to self-isolate.
“These are no longer requests, they are orders with the force of law,” said Health Minister John Haggie on Sunday.
The province hasn’t declared a formal state of emergency, but Haggie said it’s something the government will consider if it finds itself unable to use existing health legislation to take the measures it deems necessary to stop COVID-19.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick have declared states of emergency, and P.E.I. remains under public health emergency, ordering unprecedented closures and travel restrictions as the pandemic sweeps Atlantic Canada.
Across the region, bars, gyms, arenas, libraries, and many private businesses have closed. Restaurants continue to offer takeout services, while critical services — including grocery stores, pharmacies and public transit — take measures to distance customers from each other and their staff.
Ball said the province will bring forward a loan bill in the House of Assembly next week to deal with the financial blowout of COVID-19 closures.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article said P.E.I. is under a state of emergency. It was corrected to say the province remains under public health emergency.
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