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COVID-19 outbreak ‘painful’ reminder of speed of infection spread, says P.E.I. premier

P.E.I. has been spared the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the last week has been a reminder of how quickly conditions can change, says Premier Dennis King.

“What we’ve learned in this last year of COVID is this snaps back and hits you pretty fast if you don’t continue following the protocols,” King told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

“These reminders are painful and this one is probably the most painful of all.”

Last Wednesday, there were just three active cases of COVID-19 on the Island, all traceable to travel outside the province. On Monday morning, there are 18 confirmed — the most active cases since early April 2020 — with clusters in both Charlottetown and Summerside. There is no clear link between the two clusters, and no link to travel for either one.

“This had to come from somewhere. We need to try to determine where that is,” said King.

The province has taken two measures to try to get the outbreak under control. It has moved to a red phase of pandemic restrictions, closing non-essential businesses to the public, and it has ramped up testing.

It has published a list of potential exposure sites, and is asking anyone who has been at those locations to get tested. The province is also asking all people aged 19 to 29 who work in the following industries — food service, meat and fish processing, call centres and transportation and delivery, as well as long-term care staff who are not vaccinated — to get tested.

“All of us should take this very seriously and act accordingly,” said King.

“We’ve been very fortunate, and almost spoiled in a way … For the most part, our lives have not been impacted. I don’t know if that has led people to, quote unquote, let their guard down a little bit or just not take this as seriously as it needs to be.”

Schools offline

The red phase has been announced for 72 hours, and so is due to end at midnight on Wednesday. King is hopeful the province will be able to gather enough information through the expanded testing to have a better idea of the source of the infections in that time.

The province is still waiting for analysis of the current cases to see if they are the more contagious coronavirus variants that have been spreading in other parts of the country.

Schools have been closed during the red phase, and there is no online learning, either.

King said it would take about three days to get K-6 students online, and a day and a half for other grades. Teachers have been asked to begin that process, but King is hopeful students will be able to return to the classroom.

Outbreaks will remain a potential danger until the province achieves its goal of vaccinating 75 per cent of Islanders, King said.

As of Feb. 24, about three per cent of all Islanders had been vaccinated, based on the province’s published numbers. Children cannot be vaccinated at this time, so the numbers show about five per cent of Island adults have gotten at least one shot. 

King expects the rate of vaccination will increase dramatically in the second quarter of this year.

More from CBC P.E.I.

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Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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