Still no confirmed COVID-19 cases in N.L.: health minister

Still no confirmed COVID-19 cases in N.L.: health minister

Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister said there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province as of Thursday afternoon.

John Haggie provided the update Thursday afternoon at the House of Assembly in St. John’s.

Haggie said, as of noon on Thursday, 52 test samples done in the province were negative. They were sent to the microbiology lab in Winnipeg, and 33 of those were confirmed to be negative, while confirmations of the other 19 samples are pending.  

Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said COVID-19 needs to be considered in event planning.

Work-related travel for government employees has been suspended for now. On Wednesday, eight government employees went into self-isolation after returning from a conference that was attended by someone who later was confirmed to have the illness.

Johnson Insurance, a St. John’s-based company sent a memo to each of its local employees Thursday morning, telling them to stay home until further notice.

Just before 2 p.m., a statement from company president Ken Bennett said the building was temporary closed “to sanitize the space.”

“We have learned that one of our non-customer-facing employees at the Fort William Building had come into contact with someone exhibiting flu-like symptoms, off premises,” said Bennett, adding it is not a confirmed case of coronavirus and the employee is not showing any symptoms.

With the risk of potential exposure unclear at this time, Bennett said the company decided to take precautionary measures as employees are “fully equipped to work remotely” and the company will operate as usual. 

Preventive measures

Johnson is one of several employers in the city asking staff work from home out of concern over the coronavirus outbreak.

There are no confirmed cases in Newfoundland and Labrador and at least 22 people have tested negative.

Tech company Verafin is also asking its 500 employees to stay home if possible as most of them have the ability to set their own hours and work remotely, so it’s not believed it will cause much of a disruption in the company’s fight against financial crime.

Johnson Insurance told its employees to stay home until further notice on Thursday. (John Gushue/CBC)

The company has also postponed an anniversary party at the St. John’s Convention Centre, which would have drawn about 1,000 attendees.

‘Simple risk calculation’

Another St. John’s tech company, ClearRisk, had its staff begin working from home on Thursday.

“We are very lucky to be an advanced technology company that has embraced working remotely and remote working tools for many years,” said CEO Craig Rowe.

“If we can easily work from home without disruption, and at the same time help quell a potential spread, then it’s a very simple risk calculation for us.”

The local companies are following precedents set by some of the largest tech-based giants, like Google, who asked their employees to stay home to prevent spreading COVID-19.

Offshore industries taking precautions

An offshore oil rig in Norway registered the first known case of the coronavirus offshore this week.

Off the coast of Newfoundland, oil companies are hoping they won’t be the next ones.

According to a spokesperson from Husky Energy, all passengers are being screened by nurses at the Cougar Helicopter terminal before leaving the island for the oil rigs.

Verafin was one of the first companies in St. John’s to tell its employees to work remotely, amid concern about the potential spread of coronavirus. (Terri Coles/CBC)

The screening includes a questionnaire to assess if a person has been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, and mandatory temperature checks.

The spokesperson said the measures don’t just apply to Husky’s SeaRose platform, but to all offshore rigs.

Marine Atlantic, the interprovincial ferry service, is also taking steps to prevent COVID-19 reaching Newfoundland and Labrador through its port.

The company said it updated its pandemic plan and are using a more rigorous cleaning method. 

Spokesperson Darrell Mercer said the company is hearing from its usual tour bus operators who travel between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, which are reporting cancellations due to coronavirus concerns.

Supply and demand

Shortages of products like masks and hand sanitizers have hit the province, with some — including health food store the Natural Vibe — resorting to making their own hand sanitizer.

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District managed to lock down a supplier for hand sanitizer this week, as its stock began to run low.

A tender was finalized on Wednesday, and orders were placed for every school in the province under the district’s purview.

The district said it still has abundant supplies of soap, which is just as effective as any hand sanitizer.

Travel to all offshore oil platforms now comes with a screening for COVID-19. (Paul Daly/Canadian Press)

COVID-19 could also make it hard for people to get their phones fixed.

Justin Penney, who works at the iDoctor in Paradise, said he is expecting an increase in prices once the Chinese supply chain of phone and tablet parts is up and running again.

“Right now we’re seeing a real problem with the supply of parts,” Penny said.

He’s having problems getting batteries for devices, especially iPads, as the manufacturing sector was disrupted by COVID-19 in China.

He’s seen prices for parts triple due to changes in supply, so he’s warning customers their repairs could be more costly than normal.

“I haven’t seen an increase yet but we will adjust our prices accordingly,” he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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