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Doctor linked to Campbellton COVID-19 cluster says he made 'an error in judgment' – CBC.ca

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The doctor at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Campbellton, N.B., area says he’s not sure whether he picked up the coronavirus during a trip to Quebec or from a patient in his office.

Dr. Jean Robert Ngola made the comments to Radio-Canada’s program La Matinale on Tuesday morning — his first media interview since the emergence of 13 new cases in the northern New Brunswick health region starting May 21. Before then, it had been two weeks since the province had an active case.

Ngola has been suspended by the Vitalité Health Network, one of the province’s two regional health authorities, and the province has asked the RCMP to investigate to determine whether charges are warranted.

He said he decided to speak out because he’s become the target of racist verbal attacks daily and false reports to police, and he feels abandoned by public health officials.

Ngola, who is also known as Dr. Ngola Monzinga, has been working as a doctor in Campbellton since 2013. He previously practised in Europe and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola practises at the Campbellton Regional Hospital in northern New Brunswick. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

He said he did not self-isolate after returning from an overnight return trip to Quebec to pick up his four-year-old daughter. Her mother had to travel to Africa for her father’s funeral.

“What was I supposed to do?” he said in French. “Leave her there alone?”

Ngola said he drove straight there and back with no stops and had no contact with anyone. He said none of his family members had any COVID-19 symptoms at the time.

He returned to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital the next day.

“Maybe it was an error in judgment,” said Ngola, pointing out that workers, including nurses who live in Quebec, cross the border each day with no 14-day isolation period required.

“Who hasn’t made an error in judgment?” he said. “That’s why I have compassion towards everyone.”

What he told border officials unclear

On May 27, Premier Blaine Higgs announced a COVID-positive “medical professional” in their 50s had travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, was “not forthcoming” about the reasons for their trip upon returning to New Brunswick and “did not self-isolate as a result.”

The medical professional then returned to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital for two weeks, Higgs had told reporters, describing it as “irresponsible.”

“If you ignore the rules, you put your family, your friends and your fellow New Brunswickers at risk,” Higgs said at the time.

Twelve of the province’s 13 cases have been linked to the travel-related case to date, according to Public Health officials.

The policy for any health-care workers who travel outside the province for any reason is to self-isolate for 14 days, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell has said. “It is mandatory.”

Compliance officers stop and question anyone entering New Brunswick as part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Ngola did not say during the morning interview what he told officials at the New Brunswick border about his reason for travel, or what they told him about requirements to self-isolate upon entering the province.

Nor did he indicate what, if any, followup he had from border officials.

When reached by phone later to clarify, Ngola said he was on the other line with his lawyer and hung up. Repeated calls since then have gone straight to voicemail.

‘How many people are unwitting carriers?’

Ngola said he received a call from a public health official on May 25 informing him one of his patients had tested positive.

He has about 2,000 patients at his clinic, about 1,500 of them active.

Ngola had seen the man May 19 for a prescription renewal or something that did not require any touching or a physical exam. He said the man had no COVID-19 symptoms and was wearing a mask.

Ngola said he immediately called the patient, who had cold-like symptoms and was doing OK.

He said he cancelled his shift that night at the hospital and got a test for himself and his daughter. Neither of them were showing symptoms, but they both tested positive.

Ngola said he still doesn’t know how they were infected.

“Who can say? … The virus is circulating everywhere. … How many people are unwitting carriers?”

Hate messages pour in, doctor says

He said one hour after he spoke with hospital and public health officials about his contacts to facilitate the investigation and protect the public, his name, face and address were being advertised all over the internet as “the bad doctor who brought the virus to kill people.”

Ngola said that’s not who he is.

“I only have compassion towards sick patients … the role of doctors is to care, to heal, to help … not to spread viruses.”

There are 13 active in cases in the province — all in the Campbellton health region, known as Zone 5, including a new confirmed case announced on Tuesday.

The person in their 80s is a resident at the Manoir de la Vallée, the long-term care facility in Atholville where four other residents in the Alzheimer’s unit and a staff member have also tested positive.

The staff member, a female personal attendant, had social contact with Ngola on May 20, according to the facility’s owner, Dr. Guy Tremblay.

Five people are now in hospital, one of whom is in intensive care.

Accusatory calls from U.S., Africa, Europe

Ngola said he’s been looking into the people making hateful posts, and most are from outside the region. He said he feels they are trying to incite violence against him because he is black.

He said he’s been getting accusatory calls from people in the United States, Africa and Europe, and people are also making false reports about him to local police. 

Ngola said he is not pleased with the way he’s being treated by public officials.

“I’m a patient. I have a right to confidentiality, to protection from the system.”

Health authority CEO appeals for calm

Gilles Lanteigne, the chief executive officer of the Vitalité Health Network, said he was aware of Ngola’s public statements, but could not comment on human resources matters, citing privacy.

“We understand that the situation is difficult for all parties involved and we sympathize with the people who are affected by this affair, either directly or indirectly,” he said in an emailed statement.

“I would like to appeal to everyone to remain calm in these difficult times.  It is more important than ever to show respect, tolerance and compassion for one another. This is how we will get through this crisis and come out of it stronger.”

Public Health officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ngola said he remains devoted to serving the community.

“I have a family. I have a right to live. Please, I’m not a criminal.”

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Manitoba's no new COVID-19 cases streak reaches 8 days – Winnipeg Sun

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Manitoba has hit eight-straight days without reporting a new positive COVID-19 test.

The last positive case reported in the province was from June 29. This is now the longest stretch Manitoba has gone without recording a positive since the pandemic started, there have been two previous streaks of six days without a case.

Manitoba’s total positive cases remains at 325 with only six active cases, none of whom are hospitalized. There have been 312 individuals who have fully recovered from COVID-19 and seven deaths.

Canada as a whole, sits at 108,120 total cases as of 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Only Maritime provinces, P.E.I. (32), Newfoundland and Labrador (261) and New Brunswick (165) have reported fewer cases among provinces. Quebec, meanwhile, has had the most cases with 56,079 while Ontario has reported 37,932. A total of 8,777 people in Canada have died from the virus.

jaldrich@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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Doctor accused in Campbellton, N.B., COVID-19 outbreak won't face criminal charges, says lawyer – CBC.ca

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The doctor accused of being patient zero in a northern New Brunswick COVID-19 outbreak after he travelled to neighbouring Quebec in May and didn’t self-isolate upon his return has been notified he won’t face criminal charges, his lawyer said.

Dr. Jean Robert Ngola’s defence team is now “seeking answers as to why proper procedures were not followed, why [he] was singled out and why privacy laws were breached,” said a statement issued by EME Professional Corporation, the Toronto-based law firm representing him.

Ngola, who is from Congo but has had a practice in Campbellton, N.B., for about seven years, is also still seeking an apology from New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs for what his lawyer calls “unacceptable and unfounded public accusations” and for the “extreme racism and threats of violence that he and his family have had to endure.”

If Higgs refuses to apologize, Ngola’s legal team will seriously consider taking the matter to court, his lawyer, Joël Etienne, said.

“We firmly believe the premier should publicly apologize for the condemnation he hurled against Dr. Ngola without taking, in our opinion, satisfactory steps to learn the truth in the matter,” Etienne said in the statement.

The absence of criminal charges does not preclude the possibility of charges being laid under the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Act.

A spokesperson for the New Brunswick RCMP said the investigation is ongoing.

During a news conference late Wednesday afternoon, Higgs told reporters he stands by the comments he made on May 27.

Higgs never publicly named Ngola but blamed a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Campbellton region and a resurgence of the coronavirus in the province on an “irresponsible” medical professional who travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, “was not forthcoming about their reasons for travel upon returning to New Brunswick” and didn’t self-isolate.

“If you ignore the rules, you put your family, your friends and your fellow New Brunswickers at risk,” Higgs had said. “Today’s case is evidence of that.”

“My position hasn’t changed,” Higgs said Wednesday. “The comments I made previously, I stand behind those comments. I don’t intend to withdraw them.”

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Wednesday he stands by comments he made in late May in which he blamed a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Cambellton region on an ‘irresponsible’ medical professional who travelled to Quebec.’ (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Ngola drove to Quebec the week of May 10 to retrieve his four-year-old daughter because her mother had to travel to Africa for a funeral. He immediately returned to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital without self-isolating for 14 days.

He and his daughter were both tested for COVID-19 on May 25 after he was informed one of his patients had tested positive for the respiratory disease. Although neither of them were exhibiting symptoms, their results came back positive. 

A total of 41 people in the Campbellton region became infected with COVID-19 during the outbreak that began May 21, and two of them, who were in their 80s, died. As of Wednesday, there is only one active case remaining in the province and it’s linked to that outbreak.

Etienne said his client was questioned by the RCMP to determine whether he should be charged with negligence causing death or bodily harm.

But the lawyer said he received confirmation a few days ago that no criminal charges will be laid.

No timeline on investigation

Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh, spokesperson for the New Brunswick RCMP, said she is not aware if the RCMP had a conversation with any lawyer.

“However, we would not discuss any private conversations we have had anyway,” she said in an emailed statement.

“The investigation is still ongoing, that has not changed. I cannot speculate on the status of any charges as we are still investigating.”

On May 30, the New Brunswick RCMP received a complaint from the provincial government and the Vitalité Health Network regarding an individual who “may have violated the mandatory order under the current Emergency Measures Act by travelling outside of N.B., and not following the guidelines of self-isolating upon their return,” Rogers-Marsh said.

The RCMP are continuing to investigate to “determine if a violation has occurred.”

Rogers-Marsh declined to discuss the details of the investigation.

There is no timeline on how long the investigation will take, she said.

Doctor still suspended

Ngola, who is also known as Ngola Monzinga and as Jean Robert Ngola Monzinga, declined to comment on Wednesday, directing media inquiries to his lawyer.

He remains suspended, said Vitalité spokesperson Thomas Lizotte, identifying Ngola only as “the individual.”

“Unfortunately, we cannot add any more comments as this is a confidential file in human resources’ hands,” he said.

Ngola was suspended on May 28, the day after provincial officials announced his case without naming him.

He has about 2,000 patients and also works at the Campbellton Regional Hospital’s emergency department. He cannot practise anywhere in the province while suspended.

Joël Etienne, Ngola’s lawyer, has said he’ll consider legal action if Ngola doesn’t get a public apology from the premier. (EME Professional Corp.)

Ngola’s lawyer, who wrote a letter to the premier last month saying he had proof his client was not patient zero and seeking a public apology, has written him another letter.

“For us, it is a truth that he has always been innocent and that is why we ask the premier of the province once again to apologize,” Etienne said.

The defence team contends the province should have, “at a minimum,” initiated an investigation “before immediately blaming Dr. Ngola.”

The investigation, it contends, should have included:

  • Performing out-of-province contact tracing, in consultation with pandemic medical experts.
  • Investigating and tracing a “massive breach of privacy” that allegedly originated from within the government within an hour of Ngola testing positive for COVID-19 and resulted in the “unlawful outing and shaming” of him, complete with his photograph circulating on social media.

Defence hired its own investigators

Private investigators for Ngola concluded last month that he “could not have been the first patient” and that his trip to Quebec was not the source, his lawyer said.

During Ngola’s overnight round trip, he interacted with only a few people — all of whom subsequently tested negative for COVID-19, Etienne said.

Based on the coronavirus incubation period of up to two weeks, Etienne said, the investigator concluded Ngola was infected in New Brunswick by either a patient or a colleague and did not carry the virus over the border.

The premier said at the time he’s bound by privacy rules and limited in what he could say.

“But I am quite comfortable in the position that I’ve taken, how I’ve spoken about it and the reality of how this situation developed,” he said.

“And if the facts are all on the table, I am sure that others will be clear as well.”

Asked Wednesday what the government is doing to look into the defence’s allegations of a privacy breach, Higgs replied, “Well, I appreciate that’s been the accusation.

“I don’t believe that certainly that I did that. I was concerned about the protocols being followed. I think that Vitalité [has] done a lot of research in that regard. We’ve had lessons learned from that experience in Campbellton.”

Rules for health-care workers

Public Health officials did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

At the time of Ngola’s trip, health-care workers who live and work in New Brunswick were required to self-isolate for 14 days upon return from travel outside the province, officials have said.

There were exceptions, however. Doctors and nurses who work in New Brunswick but live across the border and commute regularly don’t have to isolate, for example.

Out-of-province doctors who fill in on a temporary basis, known as locums, had not been required by Vitalité to fully isolate. But the province’s pandemic task force became concerned about the number of locums coming in and issued a directive on May 19 requiring the regional health authorities to seek isolation exemptions for their locums through WorkSafeNB.

Before the Campbellton outbreak, New Brunswick had managed to flatten the COVID-19 curve, going more than two weeks without any new cases.

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No new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba, extending streak to 8 days – CBC.ca

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Manitoba has extended its record to eight days without a new case of COVID-19 being reported in the province.

The total number of cases identified in Manitoba is still 325, the province said in its daily coronavirus news bulletin on Wednesday.

There are currently six active cases of COVID-19 in the province. That number is down from 11 on Tuesday — which was also when Manitoba set its previous record for the longest stretch with no new cases of COVID-19, as the province marked a full week without a new case of the illness.

The province twice before reached a six-day stretch without any new cases reported.

There is still no one in hospital with the illness caused by the new coronavirus. The total number of deaths related to COVID-19 in Manitoba is still seven.

In total, 312 people have recovered from the illness in Manitoba.

On Tuesday, 614 tests for COVID-19 were done in the province, bringing the total number of tests done since the start of the pandemic to 67,618.

The province again asked for feedback on possible personal care home visitation shelters in its daily bulletin. 

Those centres are intended to help provide quality visits with people living in care homes, while making sure physical distancing is maintained and visitors and residents have personal protective equipment.

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