FREDERICTON - Two New Brunswick opposition leaders on Wednesday called on the government to take stronger action to curb the high numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that are projected for the coming weeks.
Liberal Leader Roger Melanson said the government is not being proactive, a day after health officials said that if current trends continued, there could be up to 5,500 COVID-19 cases per day in New Brunswick by the end of the month or early February, along with 200 people in hospital.
"They seem to be asking New Brunswickers to take all the responsibilities on their own," Melanson said in an interview Wednesday. "I think public health has a mandate and it's to keep New Brunswickers safe, and if needed, bring incremental measures to be able to deal with what we'll be facing over the next four to eight weeks."
Officials said Wednesday a person aged 80 or older died of COVID-19 in the Saint John region and that there were 94 people in hospital with the disease, including 10 in intensive care.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations reaching 100 patients is one of the criteria that would trigger a move to Level 3 of the province's Winter Plan, which would require more restrictions across the province, such as a further limit to indoor gatherings and the closure of gyms, spas and entertainment venues.
Green Leader David Coon said that instead of urging people to limit their contacts, the government should have already moved certain hard-hit areas of the province, such as Saint John and Moncton, to Level 3.
"This idea that we need to act like we're in Level 3 but not take us to Level 3 suggests to me that in the background there are economic considerations that the premier is taking into account and it is blunting action to protect public health," Coon said in an interview Wednesday.
Premier Blaine Higgs was not available for comment Wednesday.
Both Coon and Melanson said there should be an all-out effort to convince more people to get vaccinated and that the government should consider asking for help from the military if staffing levels are a concern.
Coon said a vaccination campaign should be launched on radio and television. "We need a campaign that's targeted at myth-busting all the crap that is floating around Facebook about vaccines and explain the science in a very effective way that speaks to people."
Melanson said the government should also require people to show proof of vaccination to enter liquor and cannabis stores, which is the approach Quebec has taken.
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said Wednesday he thinks the emphasis has to be on the province's hospitals and on helping the health-care system better respond to the pandemic. A lockdown or more restrictions, such as Level 3, would not be effective, he said.
"I think Omicron has changed the game in relation to COVID," he said in an interview. "I think it's going to transmit and spread regardless. Society at this point — I think it's going to be a hard sell to get people to adhere to the rules.
"Omicron is a variant that is spreading very fast and I think most people are being as cautious as they can be," Austin said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2022.