Round two of the Atlantic bubble is expected to begin by April 19, the Council of Atlantic Premiers announced on Thursday.
"While COVID-19 remains a serious concern, premiers are encouraged by Atlantic Canadians' adherence to public health measures, the containment of regional outbreaks, and the progress in rolling out vaccines," the council said in a release.
"Premiers are grateful to front-line workers for their continued efforts and the ongoing dedication of Atlantic Canadians in helping to contain the spread of the virus."
The opening of the bubble — which allows people in the four Atlantic provinces to travel within the region with no self-isolation requirement — is "conditional upon COVID-19 case numbers remaining low in the region, containment of outbreaks, and ongoing advice from Atlantic Chief Medical Officers of Health," the council said.
The news sparked a cheery banter between the government accounts for the Atlantic provinces on Twitter, which traded gifs expressing their excitement over the bubble.
N.L. participation conditional
While there were initial discussions of opening a 'Maritime bubble' and excluding Newfoundland and Labrador at first, following a large spike in cases last month, Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said Thursday that province will be included in the bubble this year.
"Their cases have come down over time, and now they're down where New Brunswick is," he said.
The Council of Atlantic Premiers said Newfoundland and Labrador's participation in the bubble "is conditional on continued progress in easing its provincial alert-level restrictions."
Last summer, the four provinces allowed free travel across their borders with no need for a 14-day self isolation period. Those restrictions were reinstated after an increase in cases.
Rankin said with the second version of the Atlantic bubble, they hope to achieve "more normalcy, commerce, people being able to visit their friends and family."
"I think for a long time we've been able to keep our borders tight, and that's proven successful and the previous Atlantic bubble was very successful so I'm eager to see that happen."
'It's huge,' business owner says
The reopening of the bubble came as welcome news to Nico Manos, the co-owner of the Lawrencetown Surf Company in Lawrencetown, N.S.
"It's huge, really. It's essentially going to give us a season and some of those tourism numbers that we generally get, so that's great," he said. "And last year, [the bubble] had a huge impact for our business so we're hoping for the same this year."
The company, which runs a surf school and recently opened a shop, does most of its business with out-of-province tourists, many from Ontario and Quebec, he said.
Manos estimated the number of people who visited his business from the other Atlantic provinces last year nearly doubled.
"[They] essentially kept us in business," he said.
"I guess people just wanting to travel, or being allowed to travel within that bubble sort of provoked them to make the trip over to Nova Scotia and we saw a direct result from that," he said.
Over the summer months, the province had increased levels of tourism activity and visits to its website, Tourism Nova Scotia spokesperson Zanda Alexander said in email.
"For some, the bubble provided a sense of safety and confidence to travel," Alexander said.
Alexander said last year, declines in accommodations, room night sales and road travel were less severe in the late summer and early fall compared to previous months.
For example, room-night sales dropped by more than 74 per cent last spring and early summer, compared to the year before, but by November they were only down 42 per cent.
Crucial for business
Reopening the Atlantic bubble is "crucial" to businesses on Prince Edward Island, said Matthew Jelley, who is mayor of the Cavendish Resort Municipality and president of the Maritime Fun Group.
"We're very pleased to host our Island guests, but for our tourism industry to have any chance, we need to be welcoming people from not only the Maritimes but beyond," Jelley told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon.
"For us, there's still a lot of uncertainty, but certainly the bubble is a great first step."
After the Atlantic bubble was first announced in June last year, operators scrambled to accommodate a flurry of bookings from travel-hungry Atlantic Canadians.
But this year, Jelley said many people were expecting another bubble and operators had more time to prepare.
"I run four cottages myself, and last night I did get three bookings from Maritime people ... willing to make the booking based on last night's premier[s] discussion," he said.
In New Brunswick, the president of the Downtown St. Stephen Business Improvement Area said he was "very excited" about the prospect of the second Atlantic bubble.
Jeff McShane said St. Stephen, located on the border between New Brunswick and Maine, has suffered from the closure of the U.S. border and the Atlantic bubble will help recoup some of those losses.
"It certainly has seen the impacts, but when we did have the Atlantic bubble earlier in the summer, we were certainly seeing guests from the Maritimes that were coming our way," said McShane, who also manages Ganong Chocolatier's museum and store, "So we look forward to that being re-established again."
While the closure of the U.S. border means fewer Americans coming to St. Stephen, there's a silver lining: more New Brunswickers will stay closer to home and doing their shopping there.
"Now they are keeping that within their own community ... so it does have a spinoff effect in a positive way, that way," said McShane.
No news on opening to rest of Canada
As of Thursday, Nova Scotia had 17 active cases of COVID-19 and Newfoundland and Labrador had 34. As of Wednesday, New Brunswick had 48.
P.E.I. had four active cases as of Tuesday.
People from outside Atlantic Canada will still need to self-isolate for 14 days upon arriving in any of the four provinces.
Premier Rankin also said they are holding off on reopening the Atlantic provinces to the rest of Canada until more people have been vaccinated.
"I don't think we're there yet," he said.
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