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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs speaks with the media in Fredericton, New Brunswick on Monday February 17, 2020. Masks will be required anywhere physical distancing of two metres can’t be maintained.The Canadian Press

New Brunswick is allowing more businesses and services to open as it launches the next phase of the province’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

Stores, offices, restaurants, libraries, museums and campgrounds can open immediately as long as they have a plan that explains how they are meeting public health guidelines, including physical distancing, hand hygiene and allowing staff to remain home when ill.

“Businesses can open effective immediately, but each of them must decide when they are ready to open,” Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday. “Some have been preparing for this moment and will be able to open right away. Others will need more time.”

Masks will be required anywhere physical distancing of two metres can’t be maintained.

“Bubbles” allowing two families to get together remain in place, but Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said now outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed if physical distancing is respected. Up to 10 people are allowed for indoor religious events such as weddings and funerals.

Elective surgeries can be conducted, and regulated professionals such as physiotherapists and dentists can now provide non-emergency services. Universities and colleges can now hold classes in person, but virtual education is preferred.

Daycares can open May 19, while day camps and other child care providers can open once they have all precautions in place. The province has earlier said schools will remain closed until September.

Trails for all-terrain vehicles can open as long as there is physical distancing.

Parks Canada issued a statement Friday, noting that national parks in the province will remain closed.

The easing of restrictions comes as Statistics Canada released figures showing New Brunswick’s unemployment rate jumped to 13.2 per cent in April from 8.8 per cent in March.

“I’ve seen the labour force statistics for April that shows nearly 50,000 New Brunswickers are out of work over the last two months due to COVID-19. Certainly reopening businesses will help reduce that number,” Higgs said.

The reopening was welcomed by Krista Ross, CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s not going to be as simple as turning on the light switch and saying we’re open for business. Businesses are going to have to have some preparations in place,” she said.

Ross says it’s important now for people to support their local businesses.

“I have seen an outpouring of support from people who want to shop local, wanting to support local restaurants, wanting to shop at local shops. They understand this is a priority right now,” she said.

Dr. Russell said the changes are the result of New Brunswickers following the guidelines, and if the curve remains flat, more restrictions will be lifted in a few weeks.

Nothing is changing at the provincial borders, and non-essential travel to New Brunswick is still prohibited.

Higgs said he and Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King have discussed opening the border between their provinces but that likely won’t happen before the end of June.

The P.E.I. government announced Friday it has no active cases of COVID-19 on the Island and members of a household can now gather indoors with up to five other people.

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