New Brunswick opposition parties have accused the government of trying to downplay COVID-19 by changing the way it reports on the virus.
On Tuesday the province launched a new Respiratory Watch report, which provides updates on both COVID-19 and influenza. Among the changes is a new definition for COVID deaths that will see only deaths that occur in hospital counted.
“It feels a lot like Blaine Higgs is trying to minimize the number of deaths associated with the COVID pandemic by imposing this really restrictive definition for what will count as a COVID death,” said Green Party Leader Coon. “And that’s just wrong on so many levels.”
Coon contends COVID deaths are an important measure of the impact of the virus and how well the province is doing at protecting New Brunswickers.
He argues the government should count every person who dies from COVID — no matter where they die.
‘Impossible to hold government accountable’
“The point here is, if they’re not providing the information, then it’s impossible to hold government accountable in terms of what they’re doing in staying on top of the COVID pandemic,” he said.
“At least if they’re sharing information, then we — the public, the media, the elected representatives, all of the MLAs — have an idea of what actually is transpiring.”
Rob McKee, the health critic for the Liberals and MLA for Moncton Centre, agrees the redefinition of COVID deaths is the most concerning of all the changes.
Since March 2022, Public Health has been reporting COVID deaths as those where the virus was either the primary cause of death or a directly contributing factor.
A COVID death is now defined as “a confirmed case who was admitted to hospital and whose death occurred during their stay.”
McKee contends the change creates a lack of transparency and questions whether the government is “trying to hide something by not giving the full picture.”
“For me, it just raises questions about, you know, the significance — if they’re trying to downplay it now and just move on and turn the page completely.”
McKee also thinks the changes are confusing and make information harder to find, when the government should be making it easier for people, especially those who are vulnerable.
Without a “full and clear picture” of the situation, including any new subvariants that are circulating, which the Department of Health has dropped from its new respiratory report, people won’t be able to make informed decisions about the steps they need to take to protect themselves, he said.
‘Vast majority’ of COVID deaths occur in hospital
In a statement, Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie said the changes are intended to “make it easier for New Brunswickers to find and review the latest information on COVID-19 and influenza.”
Now that the World Health Organization has declared the state of emergency over, and “most” New Brunswickers have been vaccinated and/or have had a previous infection, Public Health is “taking steps to treat COVID-19 like other respiratory illnesses,” he said.
The new definition for COVID deaths aligns with how influenza cases and deaths are monitored, said Bowie.
“While it’s true that only COVID-19 deaths that occur in hospitals will be counted, it should be noted that the vast majority of deaths from COVID-19 occur there.
“Many individuals who die in long-term care are transferred to hospital before their death, for example, and would be included in the numbers.”
I am concerned that these kinds of changes are going to lead to a lack of readiness and undermine the ability of Public Health to properly respond.– David Coon, Green Party leader
In addition, deaths that occur outside the hospital system are subject to a lag that can last months, said Bowie. This change will “ensure more timely reporting.”
Although the department has stopped reporting on subvariants, Bowie noted Public Health’s recommendations have remained consistent through the emergence of multiple new subvariants — that New Brunswickers “take steps to assess their own risks, to practise healthy behaviours and to limit infections when possible.”
Coon isn’t sold and expects he and his party’s health critic, Megan Mitton, will publicly voice their concerns when the legislature resumes in October.
“The global pandemic is still in place, it has not been cancelled, and I am concerned that these kinds of changes are going to lead to a lack of readiness and undermine the ability of Public Health to properly respond to a more dangerous variant, should it arise,” he said.
“In terms of tracking the trajectory of the virus and its impacts, there shouldn’t be any shortcuts or exemptions. They need to ensure that a full picture is being recorded and shared.”
Read the full article here