More than 1,600 volunteers answer N.B. government’s call for COVID-19 assistance

FREDERICTON — More than 1,600 volunteers have answered a call from the New Brunswick government for pandemic assistance while hundreds of health-care workers are off the job sick, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said Wednesday.

The government on Tuesday issued a call for anyone who could help with clinical or non-clinical work, such as administering COVID-19 vaccinations, office administration or data entry.

“We are encouraged to see so many New Brunswickers step up and answer our call in one day,” Shephard said in a statement. “Please pass along the word to neighbours, family members and friends to see if they can also give us a helping hand in this fight against the Omicron variant.”

The surge in infections across the province led the government to impose a lockdown to reduce transmission, and it led to a rise in hospitalizations and a shortage of health-care staff. As many as 342 health-care workers were isolating Wednesday after testing positive for COVID-19.  

Meanwhile, health officials reported Wednesday that four more people had died of the disease. The deaths involved a person in their 70s in the Moncton region, someone in their 60s in the Fredericton area, and two people in the Edmundston region — one in their 70s and one over the age of 90.  

There were 123 people in hospital with the disease, a rise of 10 since Tuesday. Eleven people were in intensive care.

Health officials are urging parents and guardians to book COVID-19 vaccination appointments for children aged five to 11.  

"Ensuring as many children as possible are vaccinated is the best path forward to get kids back to in-person school and make it possible for them to participate in sports and activities,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said in a statement Wednesday.

About 52.6 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received their first dose, leaving about 25,000 children who have not.   

The government has launched a financial support program for self-employed people who have had to close their businesses because of the lockdown, under which gyms, entertainment venues and restaurant dining rooms are closed. Opportunities New Brunswick is providing one-time grants of $2,000. 

Gaye Cail, the executive director of the Cosmetology Association of New Brunswick, issued a statement Wednesday calling the announcement a step in the right direction, but she said it falls short of helping those in most dire need. She said sole proprietors who earn less than $30,000 per year have been excluded from the funding package.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2022.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press