N.S. rotational workers cautiously optimistic about COVID-19 ‘proof of vaccine’ program

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WATCH: After months of advocacy from rotational workers, Premier Iain Rankin says work is underway on a "proof of vaccine strategy" that could shorten, or eliminate, their two-week quarantine period. As Elizabeth McSheffrey reports, the news has rotational workers cautiously optimistic, but many want to see the policy in writing before allowing themselves too much hope. – Jun 3, 2021

Some rotational workers in Nova Scotia say they’re cautiously optimistic about the province’s plans to implement a “proof of vaccine strategy” that may allow them to shorten, or eliminate, the two-week quarantine required under COVID-19 public safety measures.

On Wednesday, Premier Iain Rankin said work was underway on a program nationally and provincially, that could verify whether a traveller has been vaccinated, circumventing any fraudulent attempts to avoid self-isolation in Nova Scotia.

With such a program in place, he said it is possible travellers with one dose could do a one-week quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test result, while double-dosed travellers could move freely.

READ MORE: After days of complaints, Nova Scotia attempts to simplify COVID-19 travel application process

“I want to see change, I know all of us do, but we’ll wait and see,” said David Alexander, a travelling chef who lives in Falmouth, N.S. “He said it publicly and he can’t take it back. I think for all of us, we’re watching. There are a lot of upset rotational workers right now.”

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Since the pandemic began, rotational workers have been stuck in a cycle of self-isolation, modified self-isolation, COVID-19 testing, and recently — travel applications — the rules of which have all been changed a number of times.

Many must isolate apart from their families when they arrive in the province.

READ MORE: Tourism industry calls for clarity, consistency with Nova Scotia reopening plan

Rotational workers have been calling for leniency from the government for months, particularly as more and more of them are vaccinated.

Click to play video: 'Rotational workers encounter difficulties with travel application process' Rotational workers encounter difficulties with travel application process
Rotational workers encounter difficulties with travel application process – May 17, 2021

Rankin said Thursday leniency wasn’t in the cards while the third wave peaked, but now he hopes to have news on the vaccination certification strategy “in the next few days.”

“I’ve asked the Public Health team and Department of Health to work around the clock,” said Rankin. “I completely understand, these people work extremely hard — some of the hardest workers I know — and they haven’t seen their families.”

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He’s “confident,” he added, the program will come together and help inform Nova Scotia’s overall reopening plan.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia premier says man in 30s has died from COVID-19, the youngest so far

Carl Jessome, an X-ray technician who does welding inspections across the country, called the possible strategy a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Sydney, N.S., resident said he thinks the announcement is evidence that “people are getting heard,” and the messages and emails from rotational workers have been effective.

“It’s encouraging for sure, so I’m hoping things can be implemented fairly quickly because it’s a tough time, and it’s even more stressful when you’re a rotational worker or when you work out of province.”

He has some concerns, however, about how such a strategy would impact rotational workers who choose not to be vaccinated or who choose to delay being vaccinated. He also raised some privacy concerns related to the concept of “proof of vaccine.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia gas prices to rise due to COVID-19 markup, energy regulator says

Thomas Walsh, an environmental service worker, said he’s not going to hold his breath on the policy until he “sees it in writing.”

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“It brings hope, but we all know hope sometimes doesn’t happen,” he told Global News from Fort St. John, B.C.

He feels somewhat heard as a rotational worker, he explained, but theorized that “peer pressure” influenced the premier’s decision, as neighbouring provinces begin to make exceptions for their out-of-province workers.

Click to play video: 'Vaccinated rotational workers will still have to quarantine in Nova Scotia' Vaccinated rotational workers will still have to quarantine in Nova Scotia
Vaccinated rotational workers will still have to quarantine in Nova Scotia – Apr 5, 2021

By July 1, Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, aims to have fully and partially vaccinated workers ending their self-isolation after receiving a negative COVID-19 test result.

Prince Edward Island hopes to have shortened isolation for all travellers by the end of the month, and starting next week, New Brunswick aims to release rotational workers from self-isolation after negative test results between five and seven days of their return.

READ MORE: COVID-19 — Rotational workers report difficulties with travel application process

As it stands, rotational workers in Nova Scotia must apply for approval to return to the province, get tested for COVID-19 three times within two weeks, and complete two weeks of self-isolation no matter what the test result is, or whether they’ve been vaccinated.

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Those returning from “outbreak zones” in other provinces can not do the modified self-isolation — which includes family access and limited outdoor activity — while those returning from elsewhere in Canada can.

Nova Scotia’s list of “outbreak zones,” however, has not been updated recently, and is not consistent with Alberta’s, where many of Nova Scotia’s rotational workers complete their shifts.

The Department of Health and Wellness did not respond to questions about the impacts of that discrepancy by deadline.

READ MORE: Rotational workers get conflicting information on self-isolating from N.S. government

News on the possible vaccination certification program comes just days after the province released a gradual reopening plan that did not include rotational workers.

Many said they felt sidelined by the exclusion, and the premier should have announced something for them last week, instead of including them this week as an “afterthought.”

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia attempts to simplify COVID-19 travel application process' Nova Scotia attempts to simplify COVID-19 travel application process
Nova Scotia attempts to simplify COVID-19 travel application process – May 20, 2021

“We’re part of the community, we’re part of the province. We should have been included in the plans right off the bat,” said Alexander.

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He also suggested, the premier could have had more details prepared on the proof of vaccine strategy before announcing it — “dangling a carrot” in front of rotational workers that may not come for several more weeks.

There are more than 40,000 rotational workers in Nova Scotia.

According to the Health and Wellness Department, roughly three per cent of COVID-19 cases in the province since January have been classified as rotational workers, although the actual percentage may be higher due to a backlog in data entry.

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