The New Brunswick government announced Thursday it is ready to lift some COVID-19 restrictions as of Saturday and have students return to class next week.
The move comes two days before the deadline that the province set on Jan. 14 to ease the current lockdown by Jan. 30.
Effective midnight Friday, public venues in the province will be able to operate at 50 per cent capacity and indoor dining will be permitted in restaurants, also operating at 50 per cent capacity. The move will also allow businesses that had been closed, including spas, salons and gyms, to operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters that students will return to in-person learning on Monday, noting that over the last two weeks 2,000 portable HEPA filters were placed in 60 schools across the province.
Higgs said the province is looking to balance managing the pandemic with preserving residents’ livelihoods and mental health.
“We’ve certainly seen renewed (concerns about) the restrictions being more and more a burden on society, more and more of an issue in relation to mental health and well-being,” he said.
Chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said the province is ready to move to the less restrictive level of its plan slightly earlier than expected because residents respected the rules, which helped blunt the rise of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
“We wanted people to reduce their contacts by 30 per cent, and that is what we’re seeing in how the curve is playing out,” Russell said. She said the seven-day average of new cases is trending downward. “We have delayed the peak but we also, hopefully, decreased the peak,” she added.
Officials announced three more deaths from COVID-19 in the province and said there are 141 people in hospital due to the disease, including eight in intensive care.
Russell said hospitalizations will continue to rise over the next couple of weeks, expected to peak at 150 hospitalizations in mid-February, as people have more contacts under the reduced restrictions.
As well, officials announced outbreaks of COVID-19 at four correctional facilities in the province, involving a total of 176 men who have tested positive. About 100 correctional officers are now self-isolating due to positive test results or close contact status, according to officials.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.