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When the Atlantic bubble was announced on June 24, 11-year-old Jeevan Singh from Saint John, New Brunswick planned to be at the Nova Scotia border by midnight the day it came into effect.
“He believes that we’re going to get stuck in a line up at the border and why take our important time waiting at the border when we could already be visiting mom (his paternal grandmother),” his mother Darlene Singh said in an interview on Thursday.
“He was very adamant, but we convinced him, no we are not leaving at midnight, we are leaving at 9 a.m.”
It turns out Jeevan was right. The family spent two hours and 17 minutes on Friday in a long line-up crawling towards the Nova Scotia border. Traffic was also backlogged for several kilometres heading to New Brunswick on the other side.
The Singh family considers this trip essential, significant delays and all. Singh and her husband are both originally from Nova Scotia. Before COVID-19, they frequently made the trip from New Brunswick. Singh’s father is older and in poor health, while her husband’s mother has been battling cancer and was hospitalized during the pandemic.
“Sitting on that couch and seeing Jeevan and having Jeevan and doing nothing else will be as good as any medicine for my mother-in-law, and I think that’s the way people are looking at it,” she said.
“We’re so excited we’re going to finally be able to see people, because it has been really stressful. You haven’t been able to be there to take care of anybody.”
The Singhs also have a seven-month-old granddaughter in Nova Scotia who they’ve not seen since February.
“If I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t know if my mother-in-law or my father will be around next summer, so for us we were hanging onto that bubble so hard,” Singh said.
Bubble of mixed emotions
The announcement of the Atlantic bubble has been greeted with mixed emotions. While people like the Singhs are eager for interprovincial travel to reconnect with family, others believe their province’s borders should have remained closed for longer.
“Our story is we’re not angry, we’re not upset, we’re not anything. We’re just in need of going,” Singh said.
Despite the fact most people she knows who are planning to travel are visiting family in other provinces, Singh said she’s seen a lot of online backlash. But she’s not letting it get to her.
“The bubble for us is essential travel. That’s what it’s come down to,” she said. “It’s not about fun or this or that. It is essential.”
Online, many residents of Newfoundland and Labrador have been vocally expressing their concerns about opening up to the Maritimes.
Janice Boucher from Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia said the nastiness she’s seen posted against the Atlantic bubble on several social media groups has been disheartening.
“Not all but many of the hateful posts I’ve been seeing on the pages that I’m on have been Newfoundlanders,” Boucher said.
“Newfoundland is not fully opened up, people can’t see their parents or grandparents. I get all that, but just be mindful of how you say things… I get they want to stay safe. We all do. But you don’t need to be ignorant about it.”
She described the stress of visiting her home province of Newfoundland and Labrador as “almost breathtaking.” She and her husband are heading there in mid-July with their two daughters, ages six and nine. She said having aging parents make annual trips like these crucial.
But the negativity expressed by strangers, lifelong friends and even family members make her wary about travelling to that province with a Nova Scotia licence plate.
“Will my vehicle be vandalized simply for wanting to visit my parents, siblings and nieces and nephews?” she said in an interview Friday.
“I’ve already talked to my kids and said when we go, if we’re walking down the street don’t speak to anybody unless you’re spoken to because I don’t know what they’re going to say. And that’s not Newfoundland.”
Boucher’s parents are anxiously counting down the days to the visit, as are her daughters. The girls have already placed their special food orders with her parents — they’ve requested cod and crab legs.
“They can’t wait to go fishing. We are trying to do things that aren’t around a lot of people,” she said. “We’re going for family, not to look around.”
Boucher’s preparations have included calling local store owners and managers in her small Newfoundland community to advise them of her visit. While she hopes to avoid stores, she reached out to see if and where she’d be welcome.
“As much as I don’t want the hate, I don’t want to make them uncomfortable either. I want them to stay safe too and we’re going to avoid all stores if possible,” she said.
She intends to follow all public health guidelines she follows in Nova Scotia as well as those implemented in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I won’t change and do whatever because I’m in Newfoundland. It’s about respect.”
Throughout the pandemic, Boucher said she and her family have followed all public health guidelines to the letter and will continue to do so. She added that Atlantic provincial governments and healthcare professionals have deemed it safe to have this bubble, and she’s not breaking any rules by taking advantage of it.
“I’m not coming in illegally, this is something they’ve allowed, and it’s legal to do. I’m not trying to smuggle myself in,” she said.
“I always say that we don’t have to agree on everything, but showing kindness and compassion sure as heck goes a long way. That’s all I ask.”
Atlantic bubble safe–for now
Susan Kirkland, head of public health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University, said while the Atlantic bubble is indeed safe, she understands the concerns expressed by those in PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“They’re islands, they’re contained, they have no active cases of COVID at this current time,” Kirkland said. “But I do believe that the Atlantic bubble is a safe thing to do at this point in time. It may not always be safe, it may not have been safe before. But I think that right now we’re okay.”
She said what makes it safe now is that there are relatively few cases in the Atlantic region. As long as COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, quarantining, and social isolation protocols continue in all four provinces, she described the risk as “relatively low.”
Kirkland said the key to keeping it that way is maintaining vigilance. Provincial governments must continue testing and contact tracing. The public needs to continue with fastidious handwashing, disinfecting spaces and places that are heavily used, and practicing social distancing.
“Creating a bubble doesn’t give us licence to forget everything else,” she said.
The message Kirkland repeats frequently is the need to normalize wearing masks. She said the virus is going to be with us for a “long time” and wearing masks in public is a simple measure that prevents further spread.
Although it’s not necessary to wear them outdoors in the summer if you’re maintaining social distancing or in your own home or visiting friends, she urges everyone to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
“We do have that evidence now and it’s really clear that even a non-surgical mask can be protective both for you and for the other person,” she explained.
“You wear it mostly to protect the other person, but the other person wears it back in turn to protect you. If dual people are wearing them then you have that double protection in place.”
Until a COVID-19 vaccine is found, Kirkland said the threat of the virus will be omnipresent. That’s why she believes masks will become especially important in the fall when the weather changes.
“When the fall comes and we’re indoors almost all of the time, and there’s the potential for a resurgence, we have to be fully prepared to wear masks all the time inside,” she said.
Second wave likely in late fall or early winter
Kirkland said because COVID-19 is a novel virus, there’s no way of knowing for sure what lies ahead.
“But what we do know is that it’s not going away anytime soon,” she said.
“The reality of it is with every other pandemic, like the 1918 influenza, with H1N1, they’re known to have a second wave and the second wave is generally worse than the first.”
As much as COVID-19 has upended our world, Kirkland said the reality is that the majority of the population is still at risk from this virus. She described a second wave as “very likely” to occur late this fall or early winter — around the same time we’d typically experience our flu season.
“As the weather gets worse we spend much more time indoors, we’re back in school, we’re in all of these congregate spaces,” she explained.
“This is where it’s going to be absolutely critical that we wear masks because that is the one thing that we actually have some control over. We cannot control the weather or the need to be indoors for the most part. So we have to move seriously to the things that we can control.”
Travel to New Brunswick:
Atlantic Canadians will be able to travel to and from New Brunswick without the requirement to self-isolate, but will be asked to provide proof of their province of residence.
Travel to Newfoundland:
When entering Newfoundland and Labrador, two pieces of identification will be required to verify that the traveller is a resident of one of the Atlantic Provinces. One piece of identification must include an address. In addition to the identification required, visitors from the Maritime provinces to Newfoundland and Labrador must also complete the contact information section on the province’s self-declaration forms.
Travel to Nova Scotia:
Every adult needs to show either a drivers’ licence, government identification card, health card, or a utility bill or bank statement with a valid Atlantic Canadian address to provincial officials at airports, ferries, or the land border when they arrive in the province. No self-declaration form will be required.
Travel to PEI:
For efficient processing, permanent Atlantic Canadian residents are asked to complete a self-declaration form at least one to two days in advance of arriving at a PEI entry point with required identification and printed documentation.
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