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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs speaks with the media after receiving his second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Fredericton, on June 4, 2021.Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press

New Brunswick will enter a new lockdown at midnight Friday to curb rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations – a decision Premier Blaine Higgs said was a last resort.

“Think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain,” Higgs told a news conference Thursday. “This will give us the time we need to slow down the transmission of the virus.”

Higgs said the move to Level 3 of the government’s Winter Plan will extend until at least Jan. 30. The new restrictions include the closure of gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants. As well, residents will only be able to gather with their household bubbles, and indoor faith services will be prohibited.

Retail businesses can remain open with up to 50 per cent capacity and physical distancing. That’s a change from the original guidelines announced in December, which restricted non-essential businesses to pickup or delivery.

The premier said if the lockdown works to reduce the number of new daily infections, then schoolchildren could possibly resume in-person classes on Jan. 31.

Higgs said moving to Level 3 was never something he wanted to do, but it is necessary. “This two-week requirement is to ensure that our health authorities can manage our hospital system.”

There were 104 people in hospital with COVID-19, including nine in intensive care, Higgs said.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said that if nothing was done, hospitalizations would top 200 by the end of the month.

“This is why we are asking today if we can all reduce our contacts by 30 per cent over the next two weeks, we can lower the projected peak of hospitalizations from 220 to around 150,” Russell said.

Higgs said the government is working with long-term care homes to create new emergency long-term care beds throughout the province as a short-term solution to reduce the pressure on hospitals.

Officials on Thursday reported four more deaths attributed to COVID-19. They involved a person over 90 in the Moncton region, a person in their 60s in the Fredericton region and two people in the Edmundston area – a person in their 50s and one in their 80s.

Higgs said there have been 30 COVID-19-related deaths in the province since Dec. 1. Twenty-three people who died during that period were not fully vaccinated or did not have a booster shot, he said.

“We are going to do what is necessary to protect all of New Brunswickers and to compel people to get vaccinated,” he said. “Life will become increasingly uncomfortable and more difficult for those able to be vaccinated but choose not to be.”

He said he’s not in favour of a health tax on the unvaccinated, like the one proposed in Quebec, but he said he has asked all departments to look for ways to tighten restrictions on people who refuse to get vaccinated.

The president of the New Brunswick Medical Society expressed his support for the move to Level 3. In a statement late Thursday, Dr. Mark MacMillan said the health-care system is depending on all New Brunswickers to do whatever they can to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“These next few weeks will be the most challenging of the pandemic so far,” he said. “However, by working together, reducing our contacts and following public health guidelines, we will persevere as we have throughout the rest of the pandemic.”

Green party Leader David Coon called on the province to offer financial support for people and businesses impacted by the move to Level 3.

The government said it would extend its small business recovery grant program until the end of February. Eligible businesses can receive a one-time payment of up to $10,000.

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