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N.B. premier abandons pledge to make life ‘uncomfortable’ for the unvaccinated

Premier Blaine Higgs has abandoned a pledge to make life “increasingly uncomfortable” for the unvaccinated.

Asked whether the province’s plan to introduce measures targeting New Brunswickers who don’t get their COVID-19 shots is off the table, he replied, “I would say so.”

“I think that, you know, we’re moving on as a society and, you know, we’re looking at our hospitalizations and they’re coming down. They’re kind of stabilized, but they’re certainly not going up.”

Hospitalizations hit a pandemic record-high of 165 on Feb. 2. As of Tuesday, they stood at 101.

New Brunswick recorded another COVID-related death Tuesday, marking 65 deaths in the 18 days since the province returned to Level 2 from the most restrictive Level 3.

A month ago, when Higgs announced a 16-day lockdown to slow the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant and to allow time to administer more booster doses and vaccines, he said the province was “going to do what is necessary to protect all of New Brunswickers and to compel people to get vaccinated.”

Life will become increasingly uncomfortable and more difficult for those who are able to be vaccinated but choose not to be.”

Higgs asked various departments for suggestions regarding where restrictions could be tightened for “those that refuse to help protect the masses.”

“Everything” was “on the table,” he said. Restricting access to events with mass gatherings and a health tax were among the ideas being explored.

“We cannot continue to revolve around an unvaccinated population that is having such a significant impact on 90 per cent of the people in this province,” Higgs had said.

Nearly 49 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their booster shot, as of Monday, according to the COVID-19 dashboard. (Robert Short/CBC)

The next day, Higgs told CBC News the province might follow Quebec’s lead and ask for proof of COVID-19 vaccination at liquor and cannabis stores.

“For people that just choose not to [get vaccinated] and they’re impacting the health of the general public, we must find a solution,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Higgs told reporters the ideas were still under review.

“We still have a report coming forward to understand the impact that those will have and analyzing what others are doing,” he had said.

But on Monday, Higgs suggested public tolerance has changed.

“I mean, anyone who watched the Super Bowl last night and 70,000-plus people there, you know, it’s kind of hard to say that life doesn’t need to move on now,” he said.

“I think that society is saying, ‘Look, we’re done what we needed to do. We’ve had our vaccinations, and we just need to move on.’

“And so that’s why we put a path forward. That’s why most provinces, if not all, are doing the same thing, because the public is ready for that.”

New Brunswick is slated to move to Level 1 of the COVID-19 winter plan, the least restrictive level, on Friday at 11:59 p.m.

Higgs said he hopes to further reduce restrictions “some time in March,” but added it will be based on Public Health recommendations.

Suggestions ‘no longer relevant’

CBC News requested a copy of the report Higgs said he was awaiting, or any recommendations or analysis regarding ways to make life uncomfortable for the unvaccinated.

But the request was denied.

“Any suggestions that came from departments were not submitted in a formalized report. They were given verbally,” Nicolle Carlin, director of communications for the premier, said in an emailed statement.

“Now that we are moving in a direction that will see restrictions lessened and eventually lifted, these suggestions are no longer relevant,” she said.

“The premier indicated during the news conference on February 9th that our government would not place further restrictions on unvaccinated New Brunswickers.”

As of Tuesday, 48.1 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their booster shot, up from 47.9 per cent, 86.1 per cent have received two doses of a vaccine, up from 86 per cent, and 92.6 per cent had received one dose, unchanged again.

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