CHARLOTTETOWN — Officials in Prince Edward Island have placed the province under a 72-hour lockdown starting at 12 a.m. Monday after multiple new infections and two clusters of COVID-19 emerged on the island over the weekend.
The "modified red alert" period will see schools and most non-essential businesses close for three days and require islanders to practice physical distancing with anyone outside their immediate household, with exceptions for people who live alone or require essential support.
"We would rather go harder and stronger now than wait for an outbreak like we have seen in other provinces that could put us in an extended period of lockdown for weeks or even months," Premier Dennis King said late Sunday during a briefing with reporters.
The restrictions were announced as health officials reported five new COVID-19 infections, for a total of 17 cases in the past five days.
Along with the new diagnoses comes a growing number of close-contact and potential exposure sites at places like fast-food restaurants and retail stores.
Two COVID-19 clusters have been identified in the cities of Summerside and Charlottetown and many of the new infections cannot be linked to travel, officials said.
"We have two clusters of cases that are in our community and we do not have a source," chief medical officer of health Dr. Heather Morrison said.
"However, they all appear to be linked to each other. We are not seeing widespread community transmission at this point in time."
The three-day lockdown will allow public health officials to undertake comprehensive contact tracing and ramp up testing, she said.
"We need to get our arms around these clusters of cases and make sure it has not spread into any kind of widespread community transmission," Morrison added.
The short-term lockdown was announced as more moderate "circuit-breaker measures" took effect in an effort to curb the spike in infections.
Those restrictions included limiting gatherings to a household plus a consistent circle of 10 contacts, banning tournaments but allowing sports practices to continue, and limiting gyms and retail stores to half their normal capacity.
Those measures will remain in force until March 14, while the lockdown is expected to be lifted Thursday.
But if new cases emerge over the coming days that are not linked to the two clusters, or if new infections continue to rise, Morrison said it's possible the lockdown could be extended.
The new infections recorded on Sunday include two males, both in their 20s, and three females, two in their 20s and one in her 50s.
The province reported six new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, all among patients in their 20s.
"Until we are able to confirm otherwise, we need to act as if this is a variant," King said, referring to virus mutations of concern that have surfaced across the country. "What we know is that the variants move and spread quickly, therefore we need to move quickly as well and do our best to get caught up."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.
The Canadian Press