After months of mounting frustration among Nova Scotia’s rotational workers, the provincial government has eased some of the self-isolation restrictions in place when they return from shifts outside the province.
Effective immediately, these workers will be allowed to visit public outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches. Starting Monday, they’ll be allowed to attend urgent and routine medical appointments, including dentist and eye appointments.
“They didn’t totally lift the restrictions, but it’s definitely a relief to be able to leave your house and go to the doctor or dentist,” said David Andrews, who lives near Antigonish, N.S. but works in Alberta’s oilsands.
“It’s not what everybody was hoping for, but a little progress shows support for us that do work away on rotational work.”
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, out-of-province workers can now drop off and pick up household members at school, work or recreational activities, as long as they don’t leave their vehicles.
Provided they stay in their cars, they can also use restaurant and bank drive-thrus, and pick up groceries and other items ordered online.
“While self-isolation is important, we know it isn’t always easy, particularly for those who travel back and forth from Nova Scotia to other parts of Canada to work,” said Premier Stephen McNeil in a Friday news release.
“These Nova Scotians play a vital role in our communities and our economy. We want to ensure that the self-isolation requirement does not negatively impact the health, well-being and family lives of rotational workers, so we are making changes.”
Entering public places, such as grocery stores, malls, schools and churches, continues to be restricted, as does attending indoor and outdoor gatherings, or visiting people who are not members of their immediate household.
The changes only apply to rotational workers who are residents of Nova Scotia and are not working outside of Canada.
Chef David Alexander, who works in Alberta oil camps, but lives in West Hants, N.S., said the changes will make a “tremendous” difference in the quality of life for his wife and two daughters. They’ve been isolating with him every time he returns from a shift.
“Life is a little bit more normal now,” he told Global News from his hotel room in Lac la Biche, Alta.
“I can take them to work, cheer practice, drama classes, voice and piano lessons — all that stuff if I need to. We were still figuring out how I was going to get to the airport.”
Rotational workers have been advocating all summer for Nova Scotia to follow in the footsteps of neighbouring provinces, which have all granted some form of exception to the self-isolation rule.
In New Brunswick, returning workers have not had to self-isolate at all since June. In Prince Edward Island, most are only required to isolate until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.
Newfoundland and Labrador adjusted its rules last week, and now requires workers to isolate for a full seven days, in conjunction with receiving a negative test result.
The change to Nova Scotia’s rules comes one day after Global News reported that provincial officials had provided conflicting instructions on self-isolation to rotational workers.
Some had been told in an email from the office of the chief medical officer that while in isolation, they could leave their properties to walk, ride bikes, go for a drive or visit their vacation homes, as long as they maintained a safe distance from others and did not come into contact with anyone outside their immediate household.
Other workers, however, had been following instructions posted to the province’s website, which clearly states that isolating rotational workers “must not leave the home or property.”
While the Department of Health and Wellness declined to comment on that story on Thursday, Friday’s news release clarifies that returning workers may leave their properties to exercise, visit their cabins, and go for a drive. If they encounter people from outside their household bubble during that time, however, they must keep a distance of two metres and wear a face mask.
Speaking with Global News on Friday, Dr. Robert Strang said the email from his office that had caused the confusion was a “miscommunication.”
“It’s unfortunate, but understanding the huge amount of information related to COVID that is flowing through this department as well as the huge amount of communication that’s happening, I hope people understand that’s a minor error, a miscommunication internally,” he explained.
“We’re correcting that now by being very clear on a single, consistent set of requirements.”
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