Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday February 17, 2021
Coronavirus variant puts N.L. back in lockdown; in-person voting in provincial election suspended
Newfoundland and Labrador is under lockdown, and Saturday’s provincial election will continue with only mail-in voting, officials said Friday, as the province battles the B117 variant of the coronavirus.
In an emergency briefing Friday evening — the second time officials addressed the province in one day — Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the chief medical officer of health, said tests had confirmed the widespread presence of B117 for the first time.
The “variant of concern” is responsible for this week’s mass outbreak in the capital.
Confirmation of the variant’s arrival prompted lockdown measures across the province Friday and has suspended in-person voting in the election, delaying the ballot count by at least two weeks.
B117 was first discovered in the United Kingdom. It’s believed to be more contagious than the original coronavirus strain.
“We know that if not controlled, it becomes a predominant strain within weeks of first appearance,” Fitzgerald said. “This is concerning and serious. But we have the ability to overcome it.”
Effective immediately, the entire province is at Alert Level 5, with all but essential businesses closed, Fitzgerald announced.
The decision expands previous measures implemented in the St. John’s area this week, returning Newfoundland and Labrador to the same rules it followed for weeks last spring.
Nine more cases have been added to the active total since the afternoon briefing, Fitzgerald said. Many of them are teenagers with mild or no symptoms.
There are now 269 active cases in the province, with 253 of them reported in the past five days.
The outbreak has come as a rude awakening for a province that regularly reported active total caseloads in the single digits, and over the summer survived a 42-day stretch without a single active infection.
Most cases, until now, have been linked to travel outside the province.
The province had 390 total cases of COVID-19 in all of 2020. (CBC)