P.E.I. Premier Dennis King says the Atlantic bubble is still "on track" to open April 19, allowing freer travel within the region.
The premier made the remark while fielding questions from Montague-Kilmuir MLA Cory Deagle during question period in the legislature Tuesday.
"We are planning to open the Atlantic bubble on April 19, but that only happens if it is safe to do so, Mr. Speaker, and as we've learned through COVID, that seems to change on a daily basis," King said.
"For now, we're on track."
Everything on the table
Deagle also asked the premier if the province had a backup plan if the bubble fell through.
As of Tuesday, Nova Scotia is open to all Atlantic provinces without the requirement to self-isolate. That province has never restricted entry for Islanders since the bubble opened last July.
Deagle asked the premier if P.E.I. would consider a similar province-to-province bubble for incoming Nova Scotians should the situation change in the other Atlantic provinces, like New Brunswick, which is currently experiencing an outbreak in the Edmundston region — with hospital ICU at capacity.
"I think the caseload in northern New Brunswick in particular, and that being of the B117 variant … is certainly concerning, Mr. Speaker, and will come into the conversation as our public health offices meet in the days ahead," King said.
"We've been talking with colleagues and other provinces about contingencies, if there are any there. It's complicated for us simply because of our direct connection to New Brunswick via the Confederation Bridge."
There will be different restrictions for those who have a proof of vaccination. — P.E.I. Premier Dennis King
King told the legislature the province is looking into options with Northumberland Ferries, which connects P.E.I. with Nova Scotia directly, without needing to pass through New Brunswick.
He said there was a request "to see if they could possibly negotiate with the federal government to open the ferry service on April 19 in connection with the bubble." Service is scheduled to resume for the summer on May 1.
"We haven't gotten any confirmation back on that. So that might make it a little bit easier, but we have always wanted to proceed from a regional perspective on this," King said.
"All aspects and options are on the table, Mr. Speaker, but it remains our interest to open the Atlantic Bubble to all Atlantic provinces."
In her weekly briefing on Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer Heather Morrison said the hope was still to open the bubble on the scheduled date, but ultimately, the decision will be made by the premiers. not officials at her level.
Rules for seasonal residents
Although no official plan has been released, the premier also addressed how vaccinations will impact P.E.I.'s plan for seasonal residents.
In 2020, seasonal residents could apply to come to P.E.I. if they were able to complete a 14-day self-isolation. This summer may be different, King said.
"I think what you're going to see in the days ahead from the Chief Public Health Office, not just in this province, but others, that there will be different restrictions for those who have a proof of vaccination," he said.
"[Those who have] a seasonal residence here in Prince Edward Island and you have a proof of vaccine, you can come here without needing to isolate."
King said those residents may need to be tested once as a precautionary measure, since vaccinated individuals may still be at risk of spreading the virus.
"If the Canadian-U.S. border were to open, we would extend that same privilege to those seasonal residents from the U.S. who weren't able to come here last year, with the proof of vaccine," he said.
"That's what we're trending toward."
King said seasonal residents who have not been vaccinated will still be able to come to the Island, but they will need to self-isolate.
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