FREDERICTON — New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said it was a tough day for the province with news of two more deaths Thursday, bringing the number of COVID-19-related deaths to 101 since the start of the pandemic.
"We have reached a terrible milestone," Higgs told a news conference in Fredericton. "With every death we have announced there are loved ones left behind who are grieving their loss."
Higgs said the Delta variant has proven to be a fierce enemy that has claimed the lives of people young and old.
"We have had young pregnant mothers fighting for their lives. We have lost young men, fathers who are strong and healthy," he said.
The latest deaths were a person in their 80s in the Moncton region and someone in their 70s in the Campbellton area.
Circuit-breaker measures in the southeast and northwest of the province that were to end Friday will be extended for at least another week, and the measures are being introduced in the Campbellton region for at least two weeks.
Travel in and out of those areas is restricted and gatherings are limited to single households.
Higgs said his government has faced a lot of questions since easing COVID-19 restrictions in the province at the end of July.
"Did we underestimate the Delta variant? Did we ease restrictions too soon? Were we overly confident that more New Brunswickers would get vaccinated? I know that many of you are frustrated and in some cases angry that we are still living with COVID," Higgs said. "I understand this because I, too, feel the same way."
Chief medical health officer Dr. Jennifer Russell reported 67 new cases Thursday, and there are now 763 active cases in New Brunswick.
There are 55 people hospitalized, including 16 in intensive care.
Free rapid-test kits for COVID-19 are available across the province. The government has updated its mandatory order and says anyone who tests positive on a rapid test must immediately schedule a lab-based PCR test. Those who don't comply will be subject to fines.
On Oct. 5, the government announced that all civil servants and employees in sectors including the education system, health-care facilities, schools and long-term care facilities, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 19 or be placed on unpaid leave.
Many employees are still not fully vaccinated. According to numbers provided by various departments, 86 per cent of employees in long-term care homes are fully vaccinated. The rate for the Education Department is over 90 per cent, while in health care, it's 85.86 per cent at the Horizon Health Network and 83 per cent for the Vitalité Health Network.
Of 10,316 employees in the civil service who fall under the vaccine mandate, 9,321 have got two doses of vaccine and three people have medical exemptions, according to Erika Jutras, communications manager for the Finance Department.
Higgs said Thursday he's not considering extending the deadline.
"We are working with the health authorities and the CEOs because it is a particular concern in the health-care sector. We will look at mitigation efforts, but at this point, we are still sticking to our Nov. 19 deadline because we have the dilemma of the increased risk of the Delta variant spreading and much of that related to unvaccinated workers," Higgs said.
In neighbouring Nova Scotia, the government there has set a similar deadline of full vaccination for Nov. 30.
On Thursday, Nova Scotia Health Minister Michelle Thompson urged employees, including health workers who haven't had their first shot yet, to get it as soon as possible.
Under Nova Scotia's rules, those who aren't vaccinated by the deadline could be put on unpaid administrative leave.
Thompson said she doesn't anticipate backing off the vaccination deadline.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press