Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang speaks during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing. — Photo: Communications Nova Scotia Credit: Communications Nova Scotia

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For the first time since July, travellers coming into Nova Scotia from New Brunswick will have to self isolate for 14 days following a surge in COVID-19 cases in that province.

Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang announced the new travel restriction at a COVID-19 briefing on Friday. It comes into effect at 8am on Saturday, Jan. 9.

“What we’re saying here is, ‘Do not go to New Brunswick, and New Brunswickers, do not come here, unless it is for essential purposes,’” McNeil said Friday.

Nova Scotia announced two new COVID-19 cases on Friday, one each in the Eastern and Central zones, and both travel-related. There are 29 known active cases in the province. No one is in the hospital with the disease.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick has reported double digit new case numbers every day this week, and has 143 known active cases of COVID-19, having announced an additional 18 on Friday.

“Even seemingly innocent social gatherings over the holidays have led to substantial spread,” Strang said of New Brunswick’s new cases.

“It doesn’t take much to go from a very controlled situation like we’ve had to be, as [New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health] Dr. [Jennifer] Russell said yesterday, a very grim situation in New Brunswick.”

While the new travel restriction is not retroactive, Strang said anyone who returned to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick in the last 14 days should get a COVID test and self isolate. People who’ve had visitors from New Brunswick should also get tested, Strang said, but don’t need to isolate.

Travellers into New Brunswick already had to isolate for 14 days after that province left the Atlantic Bubble during a surge in cases in Nova Scotia in November. It’s the first time since the creation of the Atlantic Bubble on July 3 that people coming into Nova Scotia from New Brunswick have to isolate.

People coming into the province from Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador still don’t have to isolate, but Strang said people shouldn’t stop in New Brunswick when driving from the Confederation Bridge to the Nova Scotia border.

Strang also announced that casinos and First Nations gaming establishments can reopen on Monday. The casinos, licensed to serve alcohol, have to stop serving food and beverages by 10pm and be completely closed by 11pm, like bars. Also on Monday, retail operators can increase the number of people allowed in their stores from 25% of their usual capacity to 50%.

All other restrictions announced before the holidays — excluding the closure of bars and restaurants, which were permitted to reopen for dine-in service on Monday — are being extended for another two weeks, until 11:59pm on Jan. 24.

“Our approach is a cautious one and we’re going to continue to be cautious through the month of January, until we can be sure the impact of the holiday season is behind us. And you don’t need to look far to see why we’re choosing this cautious approach,” Strang said.

“We’ve already talked about the surge in COVID activity in New Brunswick, but if you need to look a little further, look at Quebec.”

That province has a strict curfew in effect, Strang noted, banning people from going outside between 8pm and 5am. In Ontario, hospitals are at capacity and ICUs full, Strang said.

“We cannot take COVID-19 lightly. If we allow it to spread freely, it will have significant impacts on our whole community. Our best chance to prevent this from happening here is to continue our cautious and balanced approach,” Strang said.

Vaccines rolling out

Strang said the province received new shipments of vaccine this week — 3,900 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — and those are going to hospitals in Cape Breton and the Annapolis Valley. Clinics in those locations will be up and running on Monday, the first outside Halifax.

The province is expecting two more shipments next week — 5,580 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 3,700 of the Moderna vaccine. The Colchester-East Hants Health Centre will receive some of those doses and others will go to a long-term care facility in Cape Breton.

Long-term care residents at Northwood in Halifax and Bedford will start getting their shots on Monday — a week early, Strang said. Staff and residents at Shannex facilities will get the vaccine soon too, Strang said.

Nova Scotia will begin reporting vaccinations weekly this Tuesday. As of Jan. 2, the province had administered 2,720 doses.

The province will have received 23,000 doses by the end of next week, enough to immunize 11,500 Nova Scotians with both necessary doses of either vaccine.

Strang urged patience as the province rolls out the vaccine, and asked people and groups to stop contacting public health to ask to get the vaccine first.

“We have been literally flooded with requests from individuals and groups reaching out lobbying for prioritization, whether it’s because of their job or because of their medical status,” Strang said.

“I want to assure everyone that we know who the highest-risk groups are and we’re making decisions with that risk in mind. You don’t need to reach to us.”

Compliance high, but also Hellas

Strang said compliance officers conducted more than 120 inspections of retail stores, bars and restaurants outside HRM over the holidays.

“They reported high and in some cases exceptional levels of compliance,” Strang said. And where they found non-compliance, the officers worked with business owners to quickly make changes.

Strang said he was aware of a restaurant in Lower Sackville flouting COVID-19 restrictions, and compliance officers were on their way.

“As we become aware of that blatant disobedience we’ll act very swiftly,” he said.

That business is Hellas Family Restaurant, which has been accused online of not requiring staff to wear masks and generally disregarding COVID-19 guidelines. On Facebook, the restaurant has been responding to people’s concerns by denying the seriousness of the pandemic [sic]:

To all you SHEEPLE , thank you for all your comments, it is the greatest free publicity.
Since most of you Yahoo’s are not our customers , your comments don’t carry any weight. Keep it up ,the PATRIOTS are in the house.
A screenshot of Hellas’ latest post on Facebook.

Schools reopening

Across Nova Scotia, public schools are reopening on Monday after an extra week off designed to keep COVID at bay.

Strang and McNeil thanked kids for following guidelines and urged them to keep wearing masks.

They also announced that starting Monday, students would have more access to music education. Strang said public health worked with the Education Department to develop new social distancing and masking guidelines to allow kids to sing and play instruments in class.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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