‘The timing couldn’t be worse’: impact of latest spike in COVID-19 cases felt across NL
A growing number of COVID-19 cases in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador have put the brakes on vacation activities, as people scramble to get their next protection from the virus.
On Monday, a walk-in clinic at a pharmacy inside Shoppers Drug Mart on Lemarchant Road in St. John’s saw dozens of people hoping to receive their COVID-19 vaccine booster. The province moved the wait times for a booster to 22 weeks after receiving a second dose of the vaccination on Friday. This is a reduction of about four weeks from the previous six months of waiting.
In central Newfoundland, the pandemic is once again raising its ugly head, and Gander Mayor Percy Farwell is reminding residents to follow public health rules.
“The timing couldn’t be worse, obviously. No one is looking forward to imposing restrictions on this time of year,” Farwell told CBC News on Sunday, shortly after another unexpected COVID-19 briefing from the government provincial and health officials.
Authorities reported 61 new cases on Sunday, including nine confirmed to be the Omicron variant and 34 others suspected to be the fast-spreading variant. More than half of these new cases are in central Newfoundland.
Badger, Twillingate, Gander and Grand Falls Windsor are now on Alert Level 3, while the rest of the province is on Alert Level 2.
As a result, health officials have reduced the capacity of most public spaces in communities in central Newfoundland to 50%, while bars, bingo halls and theaters are closed. Grand Falls-Windsor closed municipal buildings and depots to the public. The YMCA, Corduroy Brook Building, Heritage Society, Ski Lodge and Arenas remain open with restrictions.
âIt’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough for some of the businesses that depend on a little boom this Christmas,â Farwell said. âAt the end of the day, public health must come first. “
It is also not recommended to travel inside or outside the region.
Farwell said as the weekend approached – ahead of Sunday’s unscheduled briefing – people there were already feeling a little worried as cases of COVID-19 continued to rise in the province.
There are now 127 active cases in the province – the highest number of active cases since October 6.
Farwell said the number of cases is not something to be “terrified” of, but it is the reality of the exponential spread of the coronavirus, and something that needs to be addressed.
“Public health officials are asking us to take quick action again. It worked before when we had clusters in other areas,” he said.
“I think the thing is, right now, the timing is so bad.”
Meanwhile, the health ministry is pushing people to get tested even if they only have one symptom.
Public health is running a number of COVID-19 testing clinics for area residents.
- Fraser Road United Church, Gander, Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Salvation Army Church, 27 Park Street, Grand Falls-Windsor, Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Twillingate United Church, Monday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“The most unhappy”
Jeff Pope, owner of Third Place Cafe in Grand Falls-Windsor, told CBC News it’s been a busy time for his business, which relies on the holiday season to get through the winter.
With fears of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant and changing public health restrictions, Pope said he is already seeing a sharp drop in income since the change in alert level took effect.
âA lot of people don’t go out. They want to stay home, they’re very nervous,â Pope said.
“We have seen a lot of cancellations.”
Outside of central Newfoundland, restaurants and bars in other areas also face capacity restrictions taking effect in the middle of the peak holiday season.
Bars are reduced to 50% of their capacity, while restaurants will have to operate at 75%.
Lorne Loder, co-owner of Boca Tapas Bar and Cojones Tacos and Tequila in downtown St. John’s, said the news was not unexpected, but disappointing given the time of year.
“It was very unfortunate. It’s not what everyone wanted to hear,” Loder told CBC News on Saturday.
“The month of December and the Christmas season are very important to restaurants and many industries. So yes, that was disappointing to say the least.”
Todd Perrin, owner and chef of Mallard Cottage in St. John’s, agrees the timing of the news is not ideal. Under tougher public health restrictions, he said, the hospitality industry is still the hardest hit.
âThe income we generate by the first week of January is the money we need to get through this winter,â Perrin said.
âWe rely on the presence of people in our spaces. We can’t just go online or work from home. This is not an option for our company. So it’s a sad fact of our business style that as and when it happens. tends to impact us in ways that don’t impact a lot of other things. “
Perrin and Loder say physical distance has been their main goal since the province returned to Alert Level 2 in June.
Loder said all of his staff were fully vaccinated, with some even receiving a booster shot. He said other precautions had been taken as well, so he’s hoping people don’t en masse cancel in the coming weeks.
Perrin agrees and said he hopes no further restrictions are put in place so that the holiday industry is not affected too much.
âWe hope we get through the next few weeks with an operation as close to normal as possible and hopefully can last through the winter,â he said.
“If something happens to limit business in the next few weeks, then that’s really going to be a problem for a lot of people.â¦ It will be hard to see our way into the spring.”
Eastern Health issued a possible exposure notice for Fionn MacCool’s in St. John’s on Monday afternoon. The health authority advises anyone who has visited the restaurant on Friday between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to be tested. This does not include those who bought take out.
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