The U.K. variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in New Brunswick, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health said during a news conference in Fredericton on Tuesday afternoon.

"At our last briefing, I talked about the threat posed by new variants of the COVID-19 virus, new strains of the virus have appeared, which spread faster and more readily than the original version," Russell said. "The lab has confirmed that we have in Zone 2, two cases of the COVID-19 variant which is the Saint John area and one case in Zone 7, which is the Miramichi area."

Russell said two of the cases are related to international travel and the other is related to travel within Canada.

"These individuals have been informed and have already been in self isolation," Russell said. "Today’s news further reinforces the need for New Brunswickers to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice. These new variants are more contagious, so it is important that we take the necessary precautions now to reduce the transmission of the virus and any of its variants in our communities."

Last Friday, the province tightened restrictions on self-isolation for rotational workers, requiring them to quarantine for 14 days after returning to New Brunswick. New rules also require anybody living with them to also remain in self-isolation.

"Each and every time someone travels, for whatever reason, there is a risk of bringing COVID-19 into New Brunswick," said Premier Blaine Higgs. "But there is a greater danger out there for our entire province with these new variants and measures must be taken to mitigate the increased risk."

Higgs said the link between travel and the spread of the virus is clear, according to data public health staff have compiled since last March 8, when the first case was confirmed in New Brunswick.

"Public health has determined that 20 per cent of the cases of COVID-19 in the province were travelers," Higgs said. "These cases sparked the rest of the active cases in New Brunswick. Contact tracing has shown these cases can spread further and extend beyond those first close contacts and result in the outbreaks that we are seeing here at home."

With new variants become more prevalent, restricting travel becomes even more crucial, Russell said.

The message today really is avoiding travel. If you are planning a vacation, it is a very risky time to travel," said Russell. "The (UK) variant is present in 30 countries around the world right now, and the UK variant is present in, I think four provinces right now, if not five."

Russell says this will "put more pressure on our system."

Dr. Russell shows this slide to illustrate why the variant is so worrying: pic.twitter.com/bEDQji5TPU

— Laura Brown (@LauraBrownCTV) February 2, 2021

Further information about COVID-19 variants is available online.

25 NEW CASES REPORTED; 19 AT NURSING HOME

New Brunswick Public Health also reported 25 new cases of COVID-19. Of those, 24 are in Zone 4 (the Edmundston region), including 19 at Villa des Jardins nursing home.

The other new case is in Zone 1, the Moncton region.

There are now 267 active cases in New Brunswick, including two people who are in intensive care.

UPDATE ON EDMUNDSTON NURSING HOMES

Russell updated the situation with long-term care facilities in Edmundston. She says mass testing is happening at two residences, including Villa des Jardins, where 32 people total have tested positive, and  Manoir Belle Vue where 55 people have tested positive (those include residents, staff and support workers).

Russell says 58 of the January cases were a result of travel (half for work, half for non-essential reasons) -- which meant "hundreds" of primary and secondary infections across the province.

She says of the 58, 20 were essential travelers. That includes rotational workers, truck drivers and daily commuters.

EXPOSURE NOTIFICATION

On Feb. 2, Public Health identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious while on the following flight:

  • Air Canada Flight 8918 from Toronto to Moncton;
  • on Jan. 9, departed at 8:30 a.m.

TIGHTER TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS ON THE WAY?

Higgs said travel restrictions will be the main topic of discussion when the all-party COVID cabinet committee meets Wednesday evening and when his provincial cabinet meets Thursday. "The idea is to review all essential travel and make decisions in relation to what we can change in that regard to minimize risk," Higgs said.

The premier said officials will be more visible at New Brunswick's borders and will be asking more questions to travellers seeking to enter the province. "It is going to become tighter than it was before," he said.

CASE LOCATIONS

The number of cases are broken down by New Brunswick’s seven health zones:

  • Zone 1 – Moncton region: 316 confirmed cases (62 active cases)
  • Zone 2 – Saint John region: 217 confirmed cases (13 active cases)
  • Zone 3 – Fredericton region: 232 confirmed cases (11 active cases)
  • Zone 4 – Edmundston region: 309 confirmed cases (173 active)
  • Zone 5 – Campbellton region: 182 confirmed cases (4 active cases)
  • Zone 6 – Bathurst region: 24 confirmed cases (2 active cases)
  • Zone 7 – Miramichi region: 8 confirmed cases (2 active cases)

REMINDER OF RED AND ORANGE LEVELS AND LOCKDOWN RULES

Zone 1 (Moncton region) is at the Red level and Zone 4 (Edmundston region) remains in lockdown.

All other zones remain in the Orange level under the province’s mandatory order.

With files from The Canadian Press.