Newfoundland and Labrador are on lockdown, and Saturday’s provincial elections will only continue with postal voting, officials said on Friday as the province is fighting the B117 variant of the coronavirus

At an emergency meeting on Friday night – the second time officials spoke to the province on a day – Dr Janice Fitzgerald, the chief health officer, said tests had for the first time confirmed the widespread presence of B117

Confirmation of the arrival of the variant led to lockdowns across the province on Friday and suspended personal voting in the elections, delaying the number of ballot papers by at least two weeks

B117 was first discovered in the UK and is believed to be more contagious than the original coronavirus strain

“We know that if not controlled, it becomes a predominant stress within weeks of first occurring,” said Fitzgerald. “This is worrying and serious but we have the ability to overcome it”

As of now, the entire province is on alert level 5, and all but essential stores are closed, Fitzgerald announced

The decision extends previous measures taken in the St John’s territory this week, with Newfoundland and Labrador returning to the same rules they followed for weeks last spring

Nine more cases have been added to the active total since the afternoon briefing, Fitzgerald said. Many of them are teenagers with mild or no symptoms

There are currently 269 active cases in the province, of which 253 were reported in the last five days

The outbreak was a rude awakening for a province that regularly reported single-digit active totals and survived a 42-day stretch during the summer without a single active infection

Fitzgerald said the discovery of the variant answered questions about the rate and extent of the virus’ spread in other provinces fighting the mutation Experts in Ontario warn that B117 could become the dominant strain there before April

Because of the contagious nature of the variant, Fitzgerald said the speed of isolation measures is critical to containing it

Residents are now expected to stay in their own homes as much as possible and limit meetings to no more than five people

All non-essential shops and facilities, including playgrounds, gyms, salons, cinemas, restaurants, bars, private health clinics, and retail stores that do not provide the essentials of life are now closed

“At this point, you stay in your bladder,” Fitzgerald said, simplifying the stringent public health instructions that Newfoundlands and Labradorians have not been exposed to since last May,

“We’ll be back here for a while I hope we don’t have to finish like we did before”

Health Secretary John Haggie said vaccine rollouts will resume as soon as possible, but the schedule depends largely on delivery schedules, which have proven inconsistent across the country

Bruce Chaulk, the provincial election officer, issued a media release immediately after the briefing that he had suspended face-to-face voting in all 40 provincial districts

“Personal votes will not be postponed,” said Bruce Chaulk in a statement. “The election will now shift solely to postal voting”

The deadline for requesting special mail-in votes has been extended to February 15 voting packages must be submitted by 1 March to be received by Elections NL

The competitive elections did not survive the outbreak well The election workers resigned en masse and delayed election day for the most populous region of the province

Liberal leader Andrew Furey, who advocates reinstating the Prime Minister’s Chairmanship, has come under repeated fire for sparking an election in front of the widespread availability of vaccines

Furey was legally obliged to hold an election within one year of taking office as leader of the Liberal Party The deadline ended in August. When he dropped the letter in January, the province had a consistently low case count

“I haven’t thought much about the election,” Furey said on the Friday night before Chaulk’s announcement and just as news of B117’s arrival came on, “I understand there are questions about the election but we have no answers “

Fitzgerald said she spoke with the provincial election officer but would not disclose the advice she urged him to give during the briefing as it was not her responsibility

Furey’s opponents called for a polling delay this week and the decision to move to special votes welcomed Alison Coffin, chairwoman of the NDP, but expressed concern that some people may have difficulty registering for postal votes by Monday / p>

“This may create some legal challenges,” said Coffin. “What worries me more is how irresponsible Andrew Furey’s actions have been,”

Progressive Conservative leader Ches Crosbie declined to interview, but said in a statement that his party would consider Furey’s election timing “another day” and said the public health emergency was a priority

“Our province deserves a thoughtful conversation about why it took us so long to make the right decision to postpone this choice and how we hold our political leaders accountable,” the statement reads / p>

On the previous Friday, officials reported 50 new cases of COVID-19, with the vast majority in the St John’s Metro Region The province has reported above-average new cases since Monday when widespread community spread was first noted

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Elections NL, alert level 5

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