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New Brunswick's top doctor says quick decisions helped keep case count low

FREDERICTON — Quick decisions by government and widespread public compliance are to thank for New Brunswick's relative good fortune amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the province's top doctor said Friday.

FREDERICTON — Quick decisions by government and widespread public compliance are to thank for New Brunswick's relative good fortune amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the province's top doctor said Friday.

New Brunswick has gone almost two weeks without a new case of the novel coronavirus, despite the struggles of neighbouring Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said a number of factors have contributed to New Brunswick's success, starting with a dedicated team of public health doctors and nurses, as well as the task force that brings all the provinces together to share information and best practices.

She said New Brunswick is also in a unique position because of its all-party COVID cabinet committee.

"That has allowed us to have a really streamlined approach to decision-making which means there is a lot of unity in our messaging. That really helps for the public to be able to understand what we're trying to do and what their role is," Russell said Friday. "That transparency and education and awareness has been really key in terms of engaging the public and helping them understand and be compliant with all the measures in place."

"You need to provide timely information to the public that is easy to understand and helps reassure them and keep the fear down while helping them understand the risks and the dangers," Russell said.

She said putting measures in place early, such as closing borders and schools, and learning lessons from other jurisdictions, have also been key.

New Brunswick also prepared hospitals to be ready for a possible surge of cases by making beds and emergency room capacity available.

So far, the province has reported just 118 cases of COVID-19 and almost all have now recovered. There have been no fatalities.

It's a much different situation in neighbouring Quebec, which reported 163 new deaths Friday, bringing the total number of COVID-related fatalities in the province to 2,020.

Nova Scotia, meanwhile, reported another death Friday from COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 29 as the case count there approaches 1,000.

Russell said widespread compliance with public health restrictions such as physical distancing and the use of masks has been a big factor in keeping the numbers down in her province, but warns there will likely be a second wave of cases. She said people must stay vigilant.

"There's no guidebook for this. Some would say we're paving the runway as the plane is landing," Russell said.

Premier Blaine Higgs said because New Brunswick is surrounded by larger outbreaks of COVID-19, the easing of restrictions will be done slowly and carefully while keeping tight controls in place at the borders.

"Our goal from the beginning has been to keep New Brunswickers healthy and safe. This is a goal we all share and this is a goal we will continue to follow," Higgs said.

Elsewhere in the region, Prince Edward Island reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The provincial total remains at 27 cases.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there was one new case, bringing the provincial total to 259.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2020.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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