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New Brunswick reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and another COVID-related death, as health officials warned that new variants of the novel coronavirus could trigger a third wave in the province.

The seventeenth person in New Brunswick to die of COVID-19 is a resident in their 80s of the Manoir Belle Vue special care home in Edmundston, officials said. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said nine of the latest cases are in the Edmundston region, which has been in a lockdown since Sunday.

Russell said there are two new cases in the Fredericton area, one in Bathurst and four in the Moncton zone, which is at the red pandemic-alert level. Aside from the Edmundston and Moncton regions, the rest of the province is at the lower, orange level.

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Russell said most of the province will remain under orange-level alert because of the threat posed by new variants of the virus. “The third wave is going to be upon us very soon and the third wave is much worse than the first and second combined.

“The third wave is a result of these more transmissible, more contagious variants,” Russell told reporters. “That means it’s more dangerous.”

None of the new variants have been detected in New Brunswick, but Russell said they’ll arrive at least a week before they’re identified. “We have to adapt our strategies to respond to these new dangers posed by these new variants,” she said.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said she appreciates that residents in zones in the northeast of the province, where COVID numbers remain low, will be disappointed that their areas aren’t immediately moving into a lower pandemic-alert level.

“Right now the risk is simply too high,” Shephard said Friday. “We risk putting zone after zone into lockdown to battle increasing numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.”

While they decided against moving any regions into the lower, yellow level, officials said Friday they will ease some restrictions for people living in orange zones by allowing households to increase their bubbles to 10 other people.

“It has to be the same consistent 10 people. Your steady 10,” Russell said.

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She also added a new health order for New Brunswickers who travel outside the province for work. In Addition to the requirement they isolate for 14 days upon their return, she said if travellers test positive for COVID-19 at any point during their isolation period, the 14-day quarantine requirement resets.

Russell said it’s ideal if workers isolate at a hotel or granny-suite, adding that they can isolate with family but she said if they do, family members must isolate with them for the same time period.

Officials said Friday the province had 313 active reported cases and four people were in hospital with the disease, including two in intensive care. New Brunswick has reported a total of 1,218 infections.

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