Virus doesn’t care it’s Christmas- Premier Andrew Furey

By: Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,The Telegram
Newfoundland and Labrador has tightened public health and travel restrictions for the second time in as many days, and is closing schools two days early, as a tidal wave of Omicron-variant COVID-19 infections surges throughout Canada.
And for the second time this year, much of the central Newfoundland region is reverting to Alert Level 3 today, as cases there continue to rise.
“COVID doesn’t know it’s Christmastime, unfortunately,” Premier Andrew Furey said during an unscheduled briefing Sunday.
“The safety of every Newfoundlander and Labradorian is our top priority,” he said.
“Trust me when I say these decisions are not easy.”
Education Minister Tom Osborne said classes at schools not already closed because of COVID-19 cases will go ahead Monday, but students are asked to take Chromebooks and any other supplies home at the end of the day in case the system has to revert to online learning in the new year.
“Let me make this perfectly clear,” Osborne said. “At this time, Public Health continues to advise that schools are safe to remain open, and we have not made a decision to pivot to online learning at this time.”
Teachers and administrators are expected to spend Tuesday and Wednesday preparing for a possible switch to online learning on Jan. 4, 2022, when schools are scheduled to reopen.
Scheduled in-school vaccinations will go ahead on Tuesday and Wednesday, Osborne said.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said travel restrictions have proven to be the most effective means of curtailing spread of the coronavirus, and that was the focus of new restrictions announced Sunday.
As of Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 3 p.m., all fully vaccinated travellers coming to the province will be given a rapid antigen test kit with instructions, and have to self-quarantine for five days, administering a test each day. If they are all negative, that person can leave quarantine.
Students and others arriving from a collage campus elsewhere in Canada will also have to arrange a standard PCR test within those five days. The same applies to rotational workers.
Children who aren’t fully vaccinated must also isolate, and maintain modified isolation for 14 days, but children under five do not have to get a test.
“Unfortunately, more movement and travel is what COVID-19 thrives on,” said Fitzgerald, adding that Public Health is already operating at full capacity with contact tracing and testing.
 Central restrictions
As of today, the central towns of Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander, Badger and Twillingate will revert to Alert Level 3.
That means weddings, funerals and other religious events are capped at 100 people, or 50 per cent of capacity. Visitations are limited to one household bubble at a time, and wakes are prohibited.
Performance spaces, cinemas, bingo halls, bars and lounges in the region must close.
Fitness places, arenas and dance studios can remain open with 100 people or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less. Restaurants can stay open at 50 per cent capacity.
No team sports are allowed, except for training and practices.
Household gatherings should be capped at a “steady 20” close contacts.
Everywhere else in the province goes to Alert Level 2, but with some modifications in capacity already announced Friday.
Anyone who can is encouraged to work from home, and non-essential travel is discouraged, especially to and from the central region.
Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said that as far as he understands, any public employee who can work from home will be accommodated.
 Spreading fast
The province has seen an average of more than 30 new confirmed cases a day since Friday, and there are nine confirmed cases of Omicron, which spreads several times faster than any other variant of concern known to date.
Fitzgerald said there are also 34 presumptive cases of Omicron, which will be added to the official tally when they are confirmed.
Most of the cases are still under investigation.
“Because Omicron is so infectious and spreads so fast, we know that by the time we find a positive case, the virus has already spread onwards,” she said.
“These are temporary measures to help us during this critical period. When it is safe to ease restrictions, we will do so.”
At one point, Fitzgerald become a little overwhelmed.
“So take care of yourselves and look after your family and friends. And please hold fast,” she said, fighting back her emotion.