By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With a rising COVID-19 case count and outbreaks in all three island health regions, all of Newfoundland and Labrador is switching to Alert Level 3 until at least Jan. 10. 2022.
The move, coming three days before Christmas Day, will shutter bars and performance spaces and reduce capacity at weddings, funerals and other religious and cultural events.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Wednesday, Dec. 22, the province added 60 confirmed cases over 24 hours, double the average daily count over the previous few days.
Eastern, central and western regions are all reporting COVID-19 outbreaks, with most cases still under investigation. Fitzgerald said the inevitable dominance of the Omicron variant means that trend is not likely to change soon.
“We do expect our case count will rise, given how contagious Omicron is,” she said.
The province now has 223 active cases, the most since February 2021, when the case count topped 400.
As of Wednesday, there were 83 confirmed and presumptive cases of the Omicron variant.
There were no hospitalizations because of the disease as of Wednesday, but Fitzgerald warned there’s usually a two-week lag time from when case counts start to rise to when patients are admitted to hospital.
Alert Level 3 means all performance venues, cinemas, bingo halls and bars will have to close.
Restaurants can operate at 50 per cent capacity, as can certain other facilities as long as physical distancing, masking and VaxPass rules are followed.
Informal gatherings should be confined to a “steady 20” close contacts, and non-essential travel to other regions of the province is strongly discouraged.
Premier Andrew Furey acknowledged the crush in recent days to obtain vaccine booster shots, and said more will be available as the days go on.
“Our team is working incredibly hard to get those doses out where they are needed as soon as possible when they land in the province,” he said. “So, please continue to be patient and be kind.”
Boosters are recommended for anyone over the age of 18 and can be administered as early as 22 weeks after the initial vaccine series.
Fitzgerald said Public Health staff are stretched to the limit with contact tracing, and she echoed the premier’s plea for patience.
“Please be kind and patient with these people who are working through the holidays to keep you and your loved ones safe,” she said.
As an increasing number of close contacts are being notified, Fitzgerald reminded residents that the online self-isolation tool is the best way to understand what’s required.
People are asked not to call 811 for advice if they have access to the internet.
She also warned that no one should be complacent if they haven’t been warned of possible exposure.
“Make no mistake. COVID can be anywhere.”
Employers have been asked to allow staff who can work from home to do so.
Memorial University sent out a memo Wednesday saying anyone who doesn’t have to be on campus should work from home until Jan. 10. The university will also switch to primarily remote learning until Jan. 31.
News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2021.
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