The Halifax Regional Municipality has cancelled its next council meeting, opting to manage its affairs remotely as cases of COVID-19 rise in Nova Scotia.
“This is not the time to be a hero,” said Mayor Mike Savage at a pandemic planning update on Monday afternoon.
Municipal staff who can work from home have now been asked to do so, and Savage said it will postpone some of the more flexible agenda items, while completing other tasks “in the short-term.”
Work on the municipal budget he added, is largely complete.
“This is an extraordinary time and we are taking extraordinary measures to get through this,” said Savage, who confirmed he too, will be working from home.
“Like the prime minister, like the premier and others, I’m asking residents to reach out to neighbours and to help look after them in their time of need.”
Last week, Savage and some municipal staffers went into voluntary self-isolation after confirming a possible link to someone being tested for COVID-19. On Monday, the mayor confirmed via social media that test came back negative, ending both his and his team members’ need to be in isolation.
The municipality has updated its list of precautionary measures, including the postponement all of its in-person public engagements and events, and the closure of all its libraries, effective Tuesday.
Public transit remains limited to 150 passengers per ferry ride and the number of available seats on buses, although the first seat closest to the driver may be restricted in the interests of social distancing and ensuring availability for wheelchair users.
The municipality has also warned the public that transit operators may be wearing a face mask, but “this is not a mandated requirement, but a personal choice we support.”
Municipal recreation facilities, arenas and community centres are also closed, but essential services — including waste collection, water and first response — will continue.
Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Organization is now meeting daily to reevaulate its protocols for handling COVID-19 in the province.
“I know many Nova Scotians and many residents of HRM feel that we’re doing too much now,” said Erica Fleck, division chief of emergency managment with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.
“What I can tell you is that everybody across Canada and across the world has said they wish they had started sooner and shut down other services sooner.”
There are currently five presumptive cases of the virus in Nova Scotia, all related to international travel or exposure to someone who has been outside of Canada in recent weeks. As of March 16, Nova Scotia has completed 676 tests for COVID-19, 671 of which came back negative.
The number of cases in the province is expected to rise.
Across Canada, the status of the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving rapidly, with governments from coast to coast to coast requesting that all residents practise social distancing and self-isolation if they’ve travelled internationally.