Maritimes’ first case of COVID-19 confirmed as N.B. moves to end mass gatherings

FREDERICTON —
New Brunswick’s first presumptive case of COVID-19 has been confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer, says health officials learned Wednesday that a woman between 50 and 60 years old living in the southeastern area of the province was “minimally symptomatic” after returning from a trip to France.

The woman remains in isolation in her home, and Russell said her case can be described as a mild to moderate infection.

Russell would not say what area of France the woman visited or which airports she was in on her trip home, citing privacy concerns.

Russell is recommending that all non-essential gatherings of 150 people or more be cancelled or postponed until health officials are better able to determine the risk to the population.

“It’s a topic of discussion right across the country, and obviously in the provinces that have many cases right now, these are the steps that they’re taking,” she said.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs decided not to attend the first ministers meeting in Ottawa Thursday, but later in the day it was announced that the meeting would be held via teleconference.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau are in self-isolation after she began showing mild flu-like symptoms.

“I think with technology today there’s every reason why we can do it from a distance. I do have a call tomorrow with my colleagues and Deputy Prime Minister Freeland on COVID-19,” Higgs said Thursday.

He said the situation is changing day to day, even hour to hour, so the province could consider all options including closing schools.

“I think in reality, anything is possible as we work with what we see from around the world and across the country. I wouldn’t take anything off the table. Anything is possible,” he said.

A presumptive case of COVID-19 has been announced in neighbouring Maine. Higgs said he understands the case is in southern Maine, and so far no changes have been made to restrict travel across the Maine-New Brunswick border.

On Thursday, the New Brunswick government formed an all-party committee to address the novel coronavirus.

Higgs said the committee will provide oversight and direction on how to respond to the health issue.

The members include the premier and three other party leaders as well as the ministers of health, education, public safety and social development.

The Opposition Liberals have vowed to vote against the provincial budget in an effort to topple the minority Tory government.

Roger Melanson, the Liberal finance critic, said it’s too early to say if the COVID-19 concerns would have an impact on whether his party would try to force an election.

But late in the day, Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers issued a statement saying his party would support a move by government to delay next week’s vote on the budget.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2020.

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