New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs says he hopes to see the Atlantic bubble return around the end of June, with discussions between the region’s premiers beginning in April.
All four Atlantic provinces dropped travel restrictions within the region on July 3, 2020, allowing for relative freedom of movement during the summer months. Border restrictions began reappearing in the fall as both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick saw a spike in cases.
Higgs said the key factor will be how many in each province receive one dose of the vaccine.
“Then you look at the risk profile in Atlantic Canada and say it’s much better. So can we collectively achieve an Atlantic bubble forecast by the end of June,” Higgs told reporters on Thursday.
Both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have said that all adults will be able to receive the first dose of a vaccine by the end of June. Higgs told reporters Thursday that timeline is “a target we would shoot towards based on the availability of vaccines” but didn’t offer a firm commitment.
During a Nova Scotia briefing on Friday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said the province is unsure when they’ll begin loosening travel restrictions, but was not asked specifically about the return of the Atlantic bubble.
“We still have to have COVID restrictions at some level,” Strang said.
“Once we get into June I think we’ll have to assess where we are, our epidemiology, not just locally, but across the country.”
The premier’s office in P.E.I. didn’t respond to a request for comment and Newfoundland and Labrador’s government remains in caretaker mode as the provincial election continues to play out.
When New Brunswick will open back up to the rest of the country is much less clear. Higgs suggested the border could be open this spring during his remarks at a virtual Council of the Federation press conference on Thursday.
Higgs said delaying the deployment of second doses to allow more people to get some base level of protection will be very important in getting “back moving between provinces, not only Atlantic Canada, but the whole country.”
“We’re not focused on next fall, we’re focused on this spring and getting ourselves back to normal this spring and I think we can do that,” he said.
Speaking with reporters just a short time later, Higgs appeared to offer a less optimistic assessment of when the province could open up to the rest of the country, but says it will be dependent on the vaccination program and the outbreak situation elsewhere.
“It does move the timelines, it does shorten the timelines,” Higgs said of the increasingly widespread strategy of delaying second doses for up to four months.
“The move to the rest of Canada will be very dependent on the condition in the rest of Canada and in the big major centres and what the vulnerability is to our province and the rest of Atlantic Canada.”