P.E.I. hits two week 'circuit breaker' in effort to get cases back to zero

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King has called for a two week 'circuit breaker' shutdown to stop COVID-19 spread on the island, and try to return to zero cases.

Canada's smallest province introduced sweeping new measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 on Sunday as other parts of the country continued to shatter records for new diagnoses.

Prince Edward Island is heading into a two-week "circuit breaker" lockdown beginning Monday morning and ending on Dec. 21, meant to stem newly discovered community transmission of the novel coronavirus.

"It's been clear that in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 in this province at this time, we need to move quickly and do what other jurisdictions have been calling a circuit-breaker," Premier Dennis King told a news conference.

Such lockdowns are brief interventions — often lasting for the virus's two-week incubation cycle — meant to break the chain of transmission and give breathing room to health-care and COVID management systems.

King also encouraged everyone between the ages of 20 and 29 in the capital region of Charlottetown to get a COVID-19 test, regardless of whether they're exhibiting symptoms.

P.E.I. recorded four new cases on Sunday, as its chief medical officer described an "evolving situation" in the region that would need "a strong provincial response."

"As a province, we have learned from the experience of other jurisdictions that in some cases they wish they had acted earlier to address the spread of COVID-19," Dr. Heather Morrison said. "We've also learned that incremental or partial measures do not have the same impact in containing the virus as more strict measures."

Morrison said there's been a "sharp rise" in new cases in P.E.I. over the past week, with most patients having no history of recent travel. She emphasized "a potentially growing outbreak of COVID-19 with no identified origin."

Farther west, both Ontario and Quebec led the country by far with the highest number of new cases reported on Sunday.

Ontario plowed through its own record twice over the weekend, reporting 1,924 new infections in the past 24 hours to top the historic 1,859 new diagnoses logged the day before.

Quebec reported another 1,691 cases of the virus on Sunday. That came after the province pushed above 2,000 daily cases for the first time on Saturday, though that increase was inflated by infections that weren't captured in the previous day's tally.

Newfoundland and Labrador said of four new cases of COVID-19, three were men who recently returned to the province from Alberta.

Four new cases in Nova Scotia were all recorded within the central zone, which includes Halifax. One of them is tied to travel outside Atlantic Canada, while the other three remain under investigation.

And in contrast to P.E.I., New Brunswick moved to ease some public health restrictions amid a decline in the provincial case load.

Officials reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday as they moved the Fredericton and Moncton areas back a step in the province's colour-coded pandemic response plan. The return to the yellow classification, they said, came about due to widespread adherence to public health measures and lower local case counts.

Tougher restrictions, however, are set to remain in place in the Saint John area, where the number of active cases remained stubbornly high.

New Brunswick currently has 82 active COVID-19 cases, with just two patients in hospital.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, highlighted the outbreaks that continue to occur in high-risk populations and communities such as long-term care homes, Indigenous communities and more remote areas of the country.

"This continued impact on high-risk individuals, settings and populations is deeply concerning," she said in her daily update.

"(It's) putting countless Canadians at risk of life-threatening illness, causing significant disruption to health services and presenting ongoing challenges for areas not adequately equipped to manage complex medical emergencies."

In Manitoba, 383 new cases were reported, while 14 new deaths were largely connected to outbreaks at long-term care homes.

Saskatchewan saw 415 new cases and four additional deaths.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2020.

David Friend and Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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