Some rotational workers in Nova Scotia say they’re concerned about a new pandemic protection measure requiring them to submit an application in order to return home.
On Thursday, the provincial government announced a policy requiring all permanent residents returning from essential travel to apply for re-entry through the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in process roughly one week before they hit the road.
Approvals should be granted within three business days with “no problem” anticipated for Nova Scotians who meet the criteria, said Premier Iain Rankin, but rotational workers worry about the possibility for error, and an expensive quarantine hotel bill.
“Application to me, implies that there is an ‘approve or deny.’ What happens if I’m denied?” asked Colton Wagner, an Alberta oilsands worker who lives in Halifax.
“What am I going to do, put myself up in a hotel and then all the money I just came here to make — there goes my pay cheque?”
The new policy goes into effect on Friday for anyone travelling on or after May 20. Applications for child-custody visits and exempt travellers, such as military members or first responders, will be approved automatically, but no one else may enter until their application is approved.
In the COVID-19 briefing on Friday, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, misspoke when he told the public rotational workers were exempt. The error was noted in an email to reporters sent after the briefing.
“We understand these measures can be inconvenient to rotational workers,” Health Department spokesperson Marla MacInnis told Global News by email on Friday afternoon.
“These measures are in place to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 during our challenging third wave, particularly from areas that are considered outbreak zones.”
Baddeck, N.S. resident Sean Freeborne, a geological consultant who will start rotations in Saskatchewan this summer, said he’s worried about computer or system errors resulting in a denied application, or a delayed approval.
“I think it’s unnecessary,” he explained. “If they plan on approving all rotational workers to come home anyway, making them fill out this extra step just seems like it’s going to add to their workload and could lead to a backlog.”
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Freeborne said otherwise, the provincial government has done a “great job so far” with its pandemic protection measures.
Jennifer Hutton, an IT professional who works frequently in Montreal, said her greatest fear is an emergency situation arising at home in Halifax and facing a delay at the airport in Nova Scotia because she couldn’t apply to come home with enough advance notice.
“What if I’m needed home urgently? It’s just not possible for me to go to an airport and get on the next flight and get home. I have to apply and ask government’s permission to come home,” she said. “If I leave the country, I don’t need federal permission to come back into Canada.”
Hutton said she also knows of two rotational workers whose wives are pregnant — a situation that would certainly necessitate a quick return home, but could be complicated by the new measure.
The Health Department’s email to Global News did not answer questions about how the new policy would accommodate any sudden travel needs, itinerary changes, or bugs in computer system.
“We are confident that our border measures are constitutional,” wrote MacInnis.
Approvals for rotational workers will be signalled with an approval letter sent by email, she added, and workers are asked to present that letter to border officials along with documentation proving their residential and rotational worker status.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, rotational workers in Nova Scotia have had to contend with a long list of challenges, including stigma in their communities, isolation from their families, regular testing for the virus, and an evolving list of rules and regulations to follow.
Wagner said it’s tough to keep track of them all and his mental health is declining, especially now that his workplace has been designated a “hot spot” and he won’t be able to do a modified self-quarantine anymore.
Jeff MacKinnon, a Nova Scotia resident who works in maintenance — also in Fort McMurray, Alta. — said the stigma has posed the biggest challenge for him.
“It’s hurting families, it’s hurting children,” he said. “I have a son and he doesn’t like the fact that I can’t come home … We’re out here, all we’re trying to do is making a living.”
Other rotational workers, like pulp mill technical advisor and New Glasgow, N.S. resident Sandy MacDonald, are facing additional COVID-19 vaccine challenges.
He got his first dose in Quebec on Feb. 11 to protect his family, and with his 105-day window for the second dose collapsing on May 27, he’s worried his first dose should have gone to someone else, since he can’t get a second yet in Nova Scotia.
“I understand that they’re doing what they feel is the best thing to do, but in terms of the vaccine and giving a second dose, I can’t imagine that’s such a tough thing, to administer that,” he said.
The province says delivering first doses to all is its current priority, and there’s some evidence suggestion vaccine doses may be even more effective in preventing severe disease and death the further apart the two doses are.