Doctor blamed for COVID-19 outbreak in New Brunswick seeks apology from premier
Health professional calls for civility and respect in public debate
By Kevin Bissett
FREDERICTON — The doctor being blamed for triggering a COVID-19 outbreak in northern New Brunswick last month says he was not “patient zero” and wants an apology from Premier Blaine Higgs.
A lawyer for Dr. Jean Robert Ngola has written to the premier, calling for civility and respect in the public debate. It adds that he wants to know how his private health information came to be released on social media.
Ngola said he travelled from Campbellton, N.B., to Quebec to pick up his four-year-old daughter because the girl’s mother had to attend a funeral in Africa.
He admitted that upon his return from the overnight trip he did not self-isolate for 14 days, but he says that was consistent with practices of his colleagues and superiors, and he now believes he may have gotten the virus from a patient or another health professional.
“You personally expressed anger toward Dr. Ngola, labelling him as irresponsible and assured the public that the RCMP were being instructed to consider laying charges if warranted, all without any formal evidence or an investigation having been completed,” the 11-page letter from lawyer Joel Etienne states.
“These Trumpian comments were premature, careless, showed a blatant disregard for the separation of powers and have ultimately caused irreparable damage to Dr. Ngola’s reputation and career.”
Employee was suspended
It notes that Ngola received a letter from his employer on May 28 advising him he was suspended from his duties.
In response, Higgs said Thursday he never referred to Ngola by name — only that a health-care worker had returned from Quebec without self-isolating.
“I am quite comfortable in the position I have taken, how I’ve spoken about it, and the reality of how this situation developed,” Higgs told reporters outside the legislature.
“It is a travel-related case. The facts would point to the connections that are being made,” he added, citing cases that have emerged in the Campbellton hospital and a nearby nursing home. “It’s a situation that speaks for itself as you do the contact tracing.”
Etienne said Craig Hannaford — a private investigator — has been hired to look at the case and has produced some preliminary findings.
“There is no credible evidence to demonstrate with any sufficiency that Dr. Ngola was patient zero in relation to this most recent cluster of COVID-19 virus infections; certainly, Dr. Ngola did not contract any disease outside New Brunswick,” Hannaford concludes, according to the letter.
He said Ngola must have contracted the virus from a “vector” in New Brunswick.
Etienne said Ngola has been harassed and discriminated against, and the level of intrusiveness in social media has been unprecedented. He alleges there were government leaks that revealed Ngola’s private health information within an hour of his last communication with health officials.
New Brunswick reported two new cases of COVID-19 in the north of the province Thursday. Both involve employees of the Campbellton Regional Hospital where Ngola worked.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said the situation at the Campbellton hospital is evolving, and she advised everyone to watch for symptoms.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 153, of whom 123 have recovered, including three related to the outbreak in the Campbellton area. There has been one death, and the number of active cases is 29. Five patients are hospitalized with one in intensive care.
Many of the recent cases have been residents and staff at Manoir de la Vallee, a long-term care home in Atholville.