New Brunswick legislature adjourned as new COVID-19 cases reported in province

FREDERICTON — The threat of a growing COVID-19 outbreak in northern New Brunswick forced the adjournment of the provincial legislature on Thursday, only two days after it resumed sitting.The abrupt decision came a day after officials confirmed a health-care worker who travelled outside New Brunswick had failed to self-isolate upon their return and subsequently infected other people in the Campbellton area.Health officials announced three additional cases in the region on Thursday, bringing the total of cases in the cluster to six, including the health-care worker at the Campbellton Regional Hospital.The province's Vitalite Health Network issued a statement saying the worker had come into contact with several people at the hospital, including 50 employees. One of the new cases also works in health care.Campbellton is in northern New Brunswick, near the Quebec border, where some residents have openly complained about restrictions that have limited travel between the two provinces.Premier Blaine Higgs said Wednesday the "irresponsible" health-care worker had been in contact with "multiple patients" over a two-week period after returning to New Brunswick. Higgs also said the worker could be charged with violating public health orders.On Thursday, members of the legislature decided to adjourn sitting for two weeks.Liberal finance critic Roger Melanson said the decision was made after three members of the Liberal caucus confirmed they would be returning to their ridings in northern New Brunswick."As the official Opposition, we wanted to be here to keep doing our work and hold the government to account," Melanson said outside the legislature. "(But) we all have to be very conscious that coronavirus is still in the province. We have to … follow the directives of public health."Government house leader Glen Savoie said some consideration was given to keeping the house open by reducing the number of members in the legislative chamber, but that option was dismissed."To protect the province from spreading this thing to all corners … we're going to take the two weeks to ensure that everything is good," he said."It gives us some time to see if there's any symptoms. If there's no issues, then we will come back … like we never skipped a beat."The original plan for the legislature was to sit Tuesday to Thursday for the next four weeks.Until last week, New Brunswick had no active cases of COVID-19. Of the 120 people who had tested positive for the virus after the pandemic was declared, all had recovered. New Brunswick still has one of the lowest infection rates among the provinces.The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said she expects there will be more cases of COVID-19, but she said she is hoping they will be confined to one area.Last week, the province moved to the "yellow" phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan, allowing larger groups of people to meet and the opening of more businesses and services. Russell said the Campbellton area will take a step backwards to the "orange" level, which means a return to tighter restrictions on physical distancing.Among other things, people in the region — known as Zone 5 — must avoid contact with those outside their two-household "bubble." As well, non-regulated health professionals and personal service businesses that opened last Friday will again be closed.Russell said people in the zone should remain at home for the next two weeks and not travel outside the area.Meanwhile, provincial health authorities said COVID-19 testing will be offered to everyone in Zone 5, starting Friday."We want to take all necessary measures to prevent a second wave of the pandemic," the Vitalite Health Network said in its statement Thursday.Those seeking a test can get one even if they are not displaying any symptoms. Testing will be conducted at the Memorial Regional Civic Center in Campbellton and the Inch Arran Arena in Dalhousie."We hope that large numbers of people will participate in this initiative," said Vitalite CEO Gilles Lanteigne."It is time to hit the reset button and to give the Restigouche the chance to return to the yellow phase as quickly as possible."Meanwhile, Green party Leader David Coon said the adjournment until June 9 was unavoidable, given the fact that the legislature brings together 47 people from across the province."Given the potential of a 'super spreader event' from the cluster in Campbellton, we felt it was really important to ensure that we allow the 14-day incubation period to go by," Coon said outside the legislature.He said politicians must make a point of modelling good health-care hygiene. "We have a situation where MLAs could potentially act as vectors to spread the virus from one region of the province through their interaction with other MLAs back to other regions of the province," he said."So the cautious approach to take was to adjourn."— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax with files from Keith DoucetteThis report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2020.The Canadian Press

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