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More clarity coming on holiday gatherings

·3 min read

With the province set to unveil its travel exemption categories in a streamlined online application form Tuesday, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health told reporters Monday to expect more information about gatherings over the Christmas season.

The comment came as Dr. Janice Fitzgerald answered questions about the fact that formal gatherings of up to 50 people are still technically allowed in Alert Level 2.

“I continue to hear of parties being planned for Christmas and New Year’s Eve as if this year is the same as any other,” she said during the COVID-19 virtual briefing from St. John’s. “It is not the same. This year is very different.”

Even though confirmed active cases in the province had climbed to 36 by the last day of November, Fitzgerald said many people remain lulled into a false sense of security.

Community spread of the coronavirus is still a threat, she said.

“A Christmas party can set up the perfect conditions for that to happen,” she said.

“To be clear, small gatherings with close, consistent contacts are acceptable. A party with 50 people is not on.”

Fitzgerald added that bars and restaurants also have to adhere rigidly to pandemic health measures over the Christmas season. That means hand-washing, physically distancing and mask wearing are a must.

Premier Andrew Furey added his own admonitions in his remarks Monday, saying it’s on everyone’s shoulders to prevent the kinds of lockdowns being forced on other jurisdictions as a second wave of COVID-19 continues to rise.

“You need to focus on what you and your family are doing, as opposed to what others are doing,” he said.

“You must listen, Newfoundland and Labrador, now more than ever before.”

But the premier did try to show a more compassionate side.

"The continuous spread of the virus and in many parts of the country may increase anxiety levels here at home, but it’s going to be OK,” he said. “Please, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and stay calm.”

The province tallied one new confirmed case of COVID-19 Monday, a woman under the age of 40 in the Eastern Health region. She is now one of 36 active cases.

Health Minister Dr. John Haggie tried to mitigate fears he sees on social media about the fact some cases cannot initially be traced to a source when they’re first reported.

He said sometimes a case comes to light just as the day’s tally is about to be released, so very little contact tracing has taken place.

“We label that as under investigation and provide no more information, not because we are trying to hide anything, but simply because we do not have it,” he said.

So far, there is no evidence of community spread beyond those who have been traced as contacts of existing cases.

In an effort to make application for travel exemptions more efficient, the Department of Health is posting a new online form Tuesday that spells out acceptable reasons to be granted an exemption.

Many of these are already known, and Haggie mentioned a few on Monday, including having to provide care to an elderly relative.

“End-of-life and palliative care are other occasions which have been very emotional and understandably so, and we have done our best within the framework of COVID safety to permit these visits to occur.”

In other developments Monday:

• Furey said a more clear plan on how and when a vaccine rollout is likely to happen will be released within the next week to 10 days.

• Haggie confirmed that the Elf on a Shelf has been designated an essential worker. “Some may need to isolate, and I would suggest you discuss this with your elf before coming to any premature conclusions.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram