Atlantic Canada tightens measures to slow spread of COVID-19 Omicron variant

·4 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia reported 522 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday as the province joined others in Atlantic Canada in tightening restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the virus and its Omicron variant.

Premier Tim Houston said the province is strengthening restrictions around masking, gatherings and physical distancing in order do what it can to protect the vulnerable and to ensure the health care system isn't overwhelmed.

Houston said a growing problem is that a number of people who work in essential services such as health care need to isolate as a result of being a close contact of a case.

"We're seeing it in police, fire, transit," he told reporters. "There's a lot of people that are off work because they are isolating, so we have to take steps now to really slow down the spread and to protect all of these services."

The province has identified 2,590 new cases of novel coronavirus since Dec. 15. Officials said nine people are in hospital as a result of the disease, including three patients in intensive care.

As a result, starting Wednesday at 6 a.m. a series of measures introduced last week are being tightened including the limits for indoor and outdoor informal gatherings, which are being reduced to 10 people from 20.

In-person events such as festivals, sports games and tournaments and arts and culture performances are prohibited, while retail businesses, malls, museums and libraries can operate at 50 per cent capacity with physical distancing.

Restaurants and bars are also allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity, although the limit per table has been reduced from 20 to 10. As well, dine-in service must stop at 11 p.m.

However, Nova Scotia did not bring in isolation requirements for travellers from out of province as Newfoundland and Labrador and in Prince Edward Island have done.

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said the two island provinces are trying to keep the virus out, while it's already prevalent in Nova Scotia because of the Omicron variant. He said 83 per cent of the latest batch of cases were the rapidly spreading variant.

"They are in a much different place," Strang said of the other two provinces. "Border restrictions have a lot of negative impacts and are not going to have any real substantive benefit to our COVID response."

In Prince Edward Island, Premier Dennis King announced that beginning Wednesday at 8 a.m., anyone arriving on the Island from out of province will have to isolate for four days.

King said every traveller entering the province will be given two rapid tests and will be required to complete them on the second and fourth days of their isolation. The premier said all bars and restaurants in the province will have to stop serving customers at 11 p.m. each night.

"To get back to some kind of normal in our province, we need to do this," he said. "We need to limit travel, we need to limit our personal interactions."

The province reported 29 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the total number of active infections to 112. In the last seven days the province has identified 115 new cases of novel coronavirus, more than one-fifth of the total cases since the pandemic began. Those include 18 cases of the Omicron variant, said Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer.

New travel rules went into effect in Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday that will require all visitors to the province to self-isolate for five days. They must take a rapid COVID-19 test on each day of quarantine, and they can end the isolation only if every test is negative.

The province reported 27 new cases of the disease and 175 active reported infections on Tuesday, although nobody is in hospital with COVID-19.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick's chief medical officer, Dr. Jennifer Russell, expressed concerns about being surrounded by jurisdictions that are battling with record-breaking waves of the virus.

Russell told reporters she expects when the Omicron variant replaces the Delta variant as the dominant strain in the province, infections could double every three days, meaning the province could be dealing with up to 400 new cases a day by the end of January.

"No one should expect that we will escape the aggressive spread of this virus that our neighbours are already experiencing," she said.

Premier Blaine Higgs announced the entire province will see added restrictions, but not until after Christmas. Included in the new restrictions taking effect Monday at midnight will be a limit on household contacts to 10 people, down from the current limit of 20.

Public Health in New Brunswick reported 156 new cases Tuesday, including 41 patients in hospital and 19 in intensive care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2021.

— With files from Danielle Edwards in Halifax

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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