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Newfoundland and Labrador relaxes ban on backyard gatherings, with conditions

Chief edical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.
Chief edical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald. - Contributed
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Peter Jackson

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

peter.jackson@thetelegram.com

For the past two months, social media has been alive with outraged comments about people in Newfoundland and Labrador shirking pandemic restrictions and gathering for private parties and socials.

As of Monday, those days will be over — to an extent.

On Friday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald lifted the ban on limited private outdoor gatherings such as backyard parties and barbecues.

That’s only if physical distancing can be maintained for people who are not in the same bubble, and sharing food is still frowned upon.

The cap for any such event is 20 people.

It’s a significant move away from the previous policy to only allow such gatherings for organized events like weddings and funerals.

In any circumstance, Fitzgerald said it’s still important to stay home if you’re unwell.

With no new COVID-19 cases reported Friday, and still only two active cases remaining in the province, Fitzgerald said Alert Level 2 may even come quicker than people think.

“If all goes well, we may be able to move from this alert level a little faster than 28 days.”

That may mean lifting restrictions on such things as overnight tenting in campgrounds may also come earlier than planned. As of June 19, only self-contained units such as RVs will be allowed to set up in provincial parks. People in tents were considered more likely to use communal facilities such as cookhouses and showers.

“We’ll see how things go through Level 3,” said Fitzgerald.

Visitation changes

Health authorities have been hinting for more than a week at imminent changes to visitation policies at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

On Friday, Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said announcements will be made by regional health authorities (RHAs) next week.

“This has been the hardest of any of the decisions we’ve had to make,” Haggie said of measures to limit or ban visitors in health care facilities, “and over the course of the beginning and middle part of next week, the RHAS will make changes to visiting in long-term care and on the acute side, as well.”

He refused to provide any other advance information.

Meanwhile, Premier Dwight Ball said public-sector workers will start heading back to offices Wednesday.

That will mean some services that have closed will start to resume. The motor vehicle division will offer written tests and driver exams, as well as photo ID services, but by appointment only.

The province is also posting more information online for businesses over the next few days. One is a resource for various-sized posters that can be printed for retailers to inform customers of safety measures.

Haggie said routine bloodwork will also be phased back in, but tests for those with chronic or emergent conditions will still take priority. That is also by appointment only.

Asked about masks being made mandatory for public places in some jurisdictions, Fitzgerald said she won’t introduce that here. But she has consistently urged people to use them in situations where physical distancing is difficult, such as in stores.

“I would like to see more masks being worn in those circumstances.”

In other developments Friday:

• Haggie said personal protective gear is becoming more plentiful in the health system. “We seem to have got to a stage now where we have a couple of weeks of pretty well everything, and 34 weeks of some things.”

• The Nunatsiavut government says it’s relaxing its restrictions on anyone entering the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area as of June 8, but those coming from out of province and anyone else directed to do so are still expected to self-isolate first.

Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health for The Telegram.

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