Nova Scotia announced four new cases of COVID-19 Friday, along with the revelation that two previous cases were found to be variants of the virus.
The four new cases include one in the central health zone related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada, one in the northern zone who is a close contact of another case, and two in the western zone, both related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada.
One of the western zone cases is a student at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., who tested positive after completing their 14-day self-isolation. They are self-isolating again, but they did attend class Jan. 18-20 and Nova Scotia Health has begun contact tracing.
There are 22 active cases in the province.
During a news briefing Friday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the province detected the variants in cases that were reported in December.
He said the two cases were related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada and the individuals self-isolated. After further testing, one was found to have had the U.K. variant, while the other had the South African variant. Both cases are now resolved, McNeil said.
"I know this may come as a worry, it's our first exposure to this variant, but it is not unexpected," said McNeil. "It is yet another reason why we continue to maintain our ... restrictions."
Cases being investigated further
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said neither of those two cases resulted in community spread, but the person with the South African variant did infect other members of their household. Strang said there was no spread beyond that.
Strang said the amount of virus in the household's testing samples were low and they were unable to send their samples for sequencing. So while it's likely they had the variant as well, it hasn't been confirmed.
"We know that significant work is happening internationally to better understand the implications of these variants, and we are working closely with the lab to investigate further both of those cases and whether anything more needs to happen," he said.
Some restrictions eased
McNeil said almost all of the province's public health restrictions will be in place until at least Feb. 7, but some restrictions in sports, arts and culture will be eased starting Monday.
Sports teams will be able to play games, but with limited travel and limited spectators, and there can be no games or tournaments involving teams that would not regularly play against each other. Art and theatre performances can take place without an audience, he said.
The province will also allow residents of adult service centres and regional rehabilitation centres to start volunteering and working in the community again.
"We are lifting only these restrictions because it's important to the mental and physical health of all those involved," said McNeil.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipment delayed
Strang said another shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived this week and has already been distributed at the Valley Regional Hospital and Cape Breton Regional Hospital.
There will be no shipments next week, and the province is expected to get "limited amounts" of the Pfizer vaccine, as well as the "usual" shipment of the Moderna vaccine, in the first week of February.
"Every indication we have from Pfizer is that this is very short term. And even within the next 90 days, we're anticipating that what they aren't able to deliver in the next two weeks, they'll make that up, that amount, in February and March."
Nova Scotia has administered 10,575 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including 2,705 second doses, as of Thursday.
Updates on vaccine administration across the country can be found here.
Focus on testing university students
Strang also mentioned he has received some questions about why the student at Acadia University tested positive after completing their 14-day quarantine and attending classes.
"No one measure is perfect," Strang said. "In this case, he became infectious toward the very end of his quarantine period. The fact he was out and about doesn't mean he didn't comply with what he was required to do."
He said the student sought testing as soon as they developed symptoms following their self-isolation.
Strang said the province will refocus its efforts on pop-up testing in university communities as the number of students returning from outside of Nova Scotia after the holidays dwindles.
Late Friday, Nova Scotia's health authority said it would hold a pop-up testing clinic in Wolfville this weekend because of the high number of people who want to get tested.
Drop-in testing will be available at the Acadia Festival Theatre on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Truro school remains closed
On Thursday, a new case of COVID-19 was announced at École acadienne de Truro, a pre-primary to Grade 12 school. The province said the person did not attend Thursday and is self-isolating.
The Department of Health and Wellness said the school closed at noon to begin deep cleaning, contact tracing and any necessary testing.
Close contacts of the case will be notified.
École acadienne de Truro will move classes online until at least the start of the next week, with an update to be provided to families on Tuesday, Jan. 26, about a possible reopening on Wednesday, Jan. 27.
Strang said Friday that the case was related to a close contact of another case.
'Very good news' about Marine Atlantic ferry
After a crew member of Marine Atlantic tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Strang said 60 crew members have been tested and only one case — in Newfoundland and Labrador — has been detected, which Strang said is "very good news."
"It gives us some comfort that the public, who would have been less likely to be exposed … it's lower risk that we're going to see further cases from this ferry," he said.
Still, the province is asking anyone who was on the MV Blue Puttees, a ferry that runs between North Sydney, N.S., and Port aux Basques, N.L., on the following dates and times should be tested as a precaution. Anyone exposed to the virus on this ferry may develop symptoms up to, and including, Jan. 30, 2021.
Atlantic Canada case numbers
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