New Brunswick’s Education Minister has implemented an unprecedented two-week ban from public schools and daycares on all students, children, staff and parents who have travelled internationally recently.
The ban is the furthest any Canadian province has gone so far to restrict access to schools in the wake of the global COVID-19 outbreak, which recently claimed its first Canadian victim.
Dominic Cardy also declared all school trips outside Canada cancelled for the rest of the year.
Anyone who returns to the country is ordered to stay away from New Brunswick’s schools, learning facilities and school-district offices for 14 days, Mr. Cardy said.
He compared the virus to a “tsunami” and said he was taking the extreme measures in order to get ahead of the problem and ease anxiety among parents.
The measures were announced Monday – the same day students returned from March break.
The order sent New Brunswick’s daycare centres scrambling to find replacement workers for staff planning vacations. They also had to tell parents who are travelling abroad that they will need to find alternative care for their children when they return.
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“I’ve never seen anything like this in 32 years of child care,” said June Dunphy, a senior administrator at the Preschool Centre in Fredericton. “It puts us in a real predicament with staff, because it’s not clear if we need to pay them because we’re telling them they can’t come to work. ... We also have parents who are away right now who won’t be able to bring their children here when they come back.”
The new restrictions, which Ms. Dunphy learned about via e-mail Tuesday morning, were short on details and did not answer many of the questions child-care providers have, she said. The province’s labour board told her that any staff who go into mandatory two-week isolation should apply for employment insurance to cover lost income.
While there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick is cracking down on any potential risk. Last week it ordered almost 30 students from Sussex Regional High School who had travelled to Italy to avoid school for two weeks. The expanded restrictions came as another 50 students from Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton returned from a trip to Europe on Monday.
The ban covering all international travel widens restrictions the government placed last week on travel to a list of countries that included China, Iran, Italy and Singapore. During a news conference, Mr. Cardy called the Sussex students’ trip to Italy “ill-advised.”
The education minister said anyone who has travelled outside Canada has a "social responsibility” to go into isolation, and urged New Brunswickers to use common sense when choosing to stay away from schools.
“You do not want to be the person who brings this virus back to New Brunswick,” he said. “For me, protection of life is vital. Our goal is to protect our youth, and our teachers.”
School boards in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador have also cancelled trips to international destinations, angering parents and students who lost deposits.