On January 17, it was announced that Zone 4, the Edmundston region would return to Red phase lockdown in reaction to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the province. Two days later, on January 19, Zones 1, 2, and 3 joined it in rolling back to more intensive lockdown measures.

The New Brunswick government has made it very clear they attribute this spike to what Blaine Higgs characterized as “selfish” behaviour over the holiday season.

In one of her frequent public addresses, New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Russell listed off a series of ways in which COVID could have been transmitted over the holiday season, mentioning “family gatherings” and “simple dinners.” Does our government not realize that New Brunswickers and the rest of the world aren’t astutely aware of the concept of social distancing? 

Let’s rewind a bit. Leading up to the holiday season, most of the province was in the Orange phase due to a pre-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases. The province switched back to Yellow phase just before the holiday season, including student breaks, began. Approaching the holiday season, it was evident that New Brunswickers were eager to see their families, and many planned to travel across the province if the rules allowed. Social media was filled with people expressing their desire for a Yellow-phase Christmas. I certainly felt that way.

When the New Brunswick government decided to move the province back to Yellow phase, they were also making the decision that people would be allowed to travel across the province during the holiday season. Most people, eager to get together with their families, would be willing to consider themselves as an exception or possibly resilient against the Coronavirus. 

The impact of COVID-19 on New Brunswick has been relatively minor compared to the rest of the world, and, as a result, there is an atmosphere of relative relaxation in comparison with harder hit regions. So, it should be no surprise that, given the opportunity, New Brunswickers would travel to visit family.

I’m not saying that all risky holiday travel should be excused. But, when we are talking about big picture issues like a pandemic, people turn to their government in search of leadership and guidance. Putting individual opinions on overall politics aside, it wouldn’t be reaching to say that the majority of New Brunswickers hold a favourable opinion on our provincial government’s response to the pandemic. Therefore, knowing that a large portion of the province has faith in the government’s decisions, the government still decided to switch to Yellow phase and thus allow holiday travel. 

This recent spike of cases in New Brunswick, the worst we have seen so far, is certainly related to the holiday travel. It begs the question: should the government have been more aggressive in preventing that travel? Is it right of them to denounce New Brunswickers as selfish for travelling when most people were perfectly within their rights since the province was in Yellow phase?

With this in mind, the tone of Russell’s and Higgs’s recent public statements come off like a proverbial finger-wagging in the face of a confused populace. Despite having been the ones to open the public to the risk of transmission, the New Brunswick government is now eager to gaslight the public into taking the blame for the spread. 

We have a lot to be thankful for in New Brunswick, including the quick and decisive action that the New Brunswick government took at the onset of the virus. Early response likely prevented mass spread in the province during the pandemic’s first wave. The public perception of the COVID-19 response is likely the reason Higgs swept a majority government in the fall’s provincial election. Evidence from communities around the world show that rapid, authoritative action, when taken early, prevents the spread of the virus. So why did the New Brunswick government not follow in the footsteps of their previous successes?

By choosing to ignore the potential spike from Christmastime, the government has not just put the health of countless people in danger, but they are gambling with the province’s long term economic health, which will be much harder hit if the province sees a larger spike in cases.

It is certainly not ideal, but the New Brunswick government must return to making the quick, decisive actions that will continue to prevent New Brunswick from suffering the same fate as so many other jurisdictions.