COVID-19: N.S. changes course, re-opening to Atlantic Canada set for June 23

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia to reopen to Atlantic Canada next week' Nova Scotia to reopen to Atlantic Canada next week
WATCH: Travellers from Atlantic Canada will be allowed into Nova Scotia without isolation starting next week. As Jesse Thomas reports, the province is also moving toward reopening to the rest of Canada next month – Jun 15, 2021

Nova Scotia is lifting its border restrictions and opening to the rest of Atlantic Canada on June 23, which is a week ahead of its previously-announced five-phase reopening.

The province had initially said it will open to the rest of Atlantic Canada as early as June 30.

Read more: Nova Scotia pledges $18.2 million to boost struggling tourism industry

This means that residents of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador can travel to Nova Scotia and will not be required to self-isolate for 14 days when they enter the province.

Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Prince Edward Island, also announced they are lifting border restrictions for the region on June 23.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs did not set a firm date for reopening the province to the entire region. But as of Tuesday, those travelling to New Brunswick from P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador and the Avignon and Temiscouata regions of Quebec are no longer required to be tested for the virus or to remain in isolation for 14 days.

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“Opening to our Atlantic neighbours is the next big step. There has been a lot of discussions between the premiers and our public health officials have had a number of conversations,” said Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin during a briefing on Tuesday.

“This decision was not made lightly but after much consideration, we believe we can open to our Atlantic neighbours on June 23 and it was the best alignment we were able to achieve in our discussions.”

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia to reopen borders to ‘Atlantic neighbours’ on June 23' Nova Scotia to reopen borders to ‘Atlantic neighbours’ on June 23
Nova Scotia to reopen borders to ‘Atlantic neighbours’ on June 23 – Jun 15, 2021

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the epidemiology across the region is showing similar numbers, which allowed them to ease restrictions. However, they will be watching the situation closely.

Currently, Nova Scotia is on track to open to the rest of Canada by no later than July 14.

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The province said conversations with the three other Atlantic premiers are ongoing, and Nova Scotia is working on a timing to open to the rest of Canada.

Four new cases, 2nd phase of reopening begins

On Tuesday, the province reported four new cases of COVID-19 — three in Central Zone who are all close contacts of previous cases, and one in Eastern Zone related to travel.

There were 29 recoveries, and the number of active cases has dropped to 97. Six people are currently in hospital, including four in ICU.

Read more: COVID-19: N.S. ready to enter 2nd phase of reopening plan. So what does it mean?

Beginning on Wednesday, Phase 2 of the provincial reopening plan will also start to roll out. This means that more restrictions will loosen, including increasing informal gathering limits outside to 25 people, and 10 people inside.

Restaurants can open to patrons for indoor dining with a maximum of 10 people per table.

All retail businesses can open to 50 per cent capacity with public health protocols being followed, and gyms and fitness facilities can also operate at 50 per cent capacity.

As well, non school-aged children in daycare settings will no longer have to wear masks.

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“I know for some, this phased approach may seem slow,” said Rankin. “But the Delta variant remains active in Canada and we need to move at a cautious but deliberate pace.”

Strang stresses that while restrictions are loosening, it’s important for people to continue to adhere to COVID-19 protocols, including wearing masks and social distancing, and getting tested regularly.

During Phase 2, Rankin says Nova Scotians should take the opportunity to explore the province and support local businesses.

“Our support for local businesses can go a long way. It’s also a big day for family and friends who have been apart for two months,” he said.

As part of the province’s phased-in reopening plan, the province said testing for COVID-19 has been ramped up, including at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia enters Phase 2 of provincial reopening plan Wednesday' Nova Scotia enters Phase 2 of provincial reopening plan Wednesday
Nova Scotia enters Phase 2 of provincial reopening plan Wednesday – Jun 15, 2021

Looking ahead, Strang says the phases will move in two to four week increments, which takes the virus’s incubation period into account and allows officials to assess the impact of the changes.

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“Our plan is based on five phases, the final phase seeing 75 per cent of Nova Scotians with two doses of vaccine, which gives a high level of population protection from the virus and its variants,” he said.

Currently, 67 per cent of Nova Scotians have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Only 5.6 per cent of the population have received two doses.

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