Northern New Brunswick will celebrate an important milestone today with the region progressing into the next phase of the provincial COVID-19 recovery plan, bringing it on par with the rest of the province.
Mere days after emergency restrictions were eased across New Brunswick, the Campbellton area health region, known as Zone 5, was bumped back to the previous phase after the re-emergence of the virus in the area.
Finesse Salon, a beauty salon in Campbellton, was among area businesses that opened its doors for a couple of days before re-imposed restrictions forced it to close again. Personal services businesses are only permitted under the yellow phase.
Terry-lyne Pelletier, a hairdresser and esthetician at the salon, was “disappointed” by the news after staff scrambled to secure, and if necessary, install safety supplies at their Water Street location.
But as the rate of new cases has slowed, Public Health announced this week Zone 5 could rejoin the rest of the province, which remained in the yellow phase.
“We were excited,” Pelletier said Thursday afternoon. “We were anxious to book all our clients back and get everything ready for us to have our new normal.”
But, at least for the immediate future, that new normal won’t include the salon’s Quebec clients.
The Campbellton area is deeply linked with neighbouring Quebec communities on the other side of the Restigouche River and accessible by bridge — key markets for New Brunswick-side businesses, according to the chair of the Restigouche Regional Service Commission.
Yet, Brad Mann said travel between the two sides will continue to be limited, even after the Atlantic travel bubble comes into effect July 3.
“Those communities go as one community,” Mann said.
He said people from Listuguj First Nation, Point-à-la-Croix, Escuminac, Matapédia — small riverside communities in Quebec that stretch about 20 kilometres from the bridge to Campbellton — account for upwards of 40 per cent of Campbellton area business.
Mann said Quebec customers account for 34 per cent of credit card transactions at area businesses.
It’s going to further hamper businesses that have dealt with starts and stops and nervous customers uneasy about entering businesses — let alone the “discrimination” experienced by Zone 5 residents and businesses because of the COVID-19 cluster. Mann said some distributors are still refusing to transport goods into the region.
Once the inter-provincial travel bubble opens, Mann said local businesses likely won’t see outside visitors because of the stigma.
Restigouche officials have been lobbying the New Brunswick government to include the Quebec communities into the new bubble, Mann said, but they have yet to see a response.
He said they’re not asking to open to all of Quebec.
The Campbellton region also has key essential services, like banks, family doctors and the hospital, for neighbouring Quebec residents.
“Everything is in Campbellton that these people use,” he said. “They’re left on with one grocery store on the other side of the bridge.”