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NL to end COVID restrictions

The light at the end of the tunnel for COVID-19 across the province seems to be in view. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador made an announcement on Feb. 16, that the province will see the end to COVID-19 restrictions by Mar. 14. This will include capacity limitations, social distancing, mask requirements, and proof of vaccination. Masking will continue to be strongly recommended beyond Mar. 14.

Premier Andrew Furey said this COVID-19 briefing reflects the solid situation Newfoundland and Labrador is in.

“This can only be done because of your vigilance, your compliance, your efforts, and your determination to continue to care for each other. With almost 280,000 eligible residents of this province now boosted, Dr. Fiztgerald, her team, and public health are able to safely, slowly, loosen restrictions.”

Dr. Fitzgerald said they have developed a phase plan which aims to move the province out of the pandemic phase.

“The restrictions we had in place were important to reduce hospitalizations to a manageable level while we were in the height of the outbreak, but we are now at a turning point. We have a less-severe COVID-19 strain, a high vaccination rate, a growing booster rate, and therapeutic medications to prevent severe COVID-19 illness. The combination of these factors shifts the balance of risks and benefits.”

The first phase, which will be on Feb. 21 at 12:01 a.m., will see the following changes come into effect:

• Informal gatherings are limited to 25 people; • Faith based and cultural ceremonies needing proof of vaccination can increase to 75 per cent capacity, or 50 percent capacity with no proof of vaccination; • Public visitations are limited to 50 per cent of room capacity and wakes held outside a funeral home or place of worship are limited to 25 people; • Gyms, fitness facilities, dance studios, and restaurants can operate up to 75 per cent capacity; • Sports can participate in out of region competition but can only play one team per day. More than one game can be played per day, but only against the same team, no tournaments. • Retail stores can open with no restrictions.

The second phase, which will be on Feb. 28 at 12:01 a.m. will see the following changes come into effect:

• All border controls and travel restrictions will be removed; • The rapid testing program will be done voluntarily for any traveler wishing to use the take home kits.

Feb. 17, the following changes will come into effect involving contact management within daycare facilities:

• If a child is exposed in daycare and has no symptoms, they can continue to go to day care while isolating as much as possible outside of day care for 10 days if unvaccinated.

A PCR or rapid test is not required;

• If a child has been exposed to COVID-19 within their household, they must isolate for 10 days with or without symptoms; • If a child has symptoms but is not a close contact of a known case, they must stay home and take two rapid tests 72 hours apart. If both tests are negative, the child can return to daycare once symptoms have improved and they have had no fever for 24 hours.

Dr. Fitzgerald said they are aware that the ease of restrictions will be a relief to many but may cause anxiety in others, especially those who are immunocompromised, but that everyone has the power within themselves to keep protected by masking, social distancing, washing their hands, and avoiding high-risk situations.

“Our decisions are not a response to the protests happening across the country. We have never shied away from making difficult or unpopular decisions based on evidence. We have always said we would go where the science leads us and that’s exactly what we’re doing now.”

She said it is time to start shifting perspective because this is the beginning of the end.

“COVID will be here for a long time. Perhaps in seasonal waves, perhaps not. As a society, we must learn to live with the virus and learn to adapt. We will likely face more waves in the future, and that could mean revisiting public health measures, but that’s just a part of living with COVID that we all need to get used to. Humans need social interaction to maintain positive mental health, it’s just how we’re built.”

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