Nova Scotia to expand vaccine program as new COVID-19 restrictions imposed

·4 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia said it will install ultra low-temperature freezers to store COVID-19 vaccines at four additional sites across the province this week in an effort to escalate its vaccination rollout.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said the province is moving quickly.

"We have been very fortunate to be able to develop in just the space of a few weeks, the necessary freezer and fridge capacity that will be required for this massive vaccine program," Strang told reporters Monday. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is being distributed across Canada, needs to be stored at -70 C.

The freezers will be installed at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, Colchester East Hants Health Centre, Valley Regional Hospital and Yarmouth Regional Hospital. Health officials said Monday the vaccine will arrive at the Cape Breton and Valley Regional hospitals the week of Jan. 4. Each site will receive 1,950 doses.

Last week, the province began its vaccination program in Halifax, where 1,463 front-line health-care workers received the first of two required doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Strang said the province will receive another shipment of 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week.

He said a certain amount of that shipment will be used to administer the second dose for those already immunized, and said there will be enough left over to start immunizing other priority groups, including health workers in long-term care units and vulnerable seniors.

"We've gone through all the ones who were eligible for that (first) dose and we are starting to reach out already to the people from our long-term care unit in Halifax, so we are moving faster than we even thought," Strang said.

Nova Scotia reported two new cases of COVID-19 Monday as new restrictions meant to prevent any possible surge of COVID-19 over the holiday period took effect across the province. The restrictions, first announced last week, were implemented as the number of reported active COVID-19 infections in the province dropped to 38.

Beginning Monday and until Jan. 10, in-person dining at restaurants in the Halifax area will remain closed, while restaurants and licensed establishments in the rest of the province will have to stop service by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m.

Indoor gatherings provincewide are capped at 10 people and retail stores across Nova Scotia are required to limit the number of shoppers to 25 per cent of legal capacity. Long-term care residents are allowed two designated caregivers while seniors facilities can permit limited visits by family members.

The province is asking citizens to avoid unnecessary travel throughout the province and is recommending that if people need to travel, that they go directly to their final destination and stay there.

In neighbouring New Brunswick, health officials reported four new cases of COVID-19 Monday.

The cases involve a person in their 20s and two people in their 50s from the Fredericton area and one person in their 20s in the Edmundston region. The three Fredericton cases are travel related while the Edmundston case involves a contact of a known case.

The province has 48 active reported cases of novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, health officials said a total of 1,871 people received their first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a clinic held at the Miramichi Regional Hospital over the weekend.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases of COVID-19 Monday. Health officials, however, said they solved the mystery of a cluster of cases in the tiny town of Harbour Breton.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced that after nearly a month of tracing contacts, officials had tracked the source of the small cluster back to travel.

Harbour Breton has about 1,600 people and sits at the end of a long, lonely highway that cuts vertically across the vast emptiness of central Newfoundland. When cases first sprang up in the town in early December, officials couldn't figure out where they came from.

"This is a relief in many ways and the public health team … deserves huge kudos for their diligence in tracing back until they found the source," Fitzgerald said.

The town has been in a state of modified lockdown since the beginning of the month and over 1,000 residents stepped forward for tests, Fitzgerald said. If no new cases are found by Dec. 24 in relation to the cluster, then officials will declare the outbreak over, she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2020.

— With files by Sarah Smellie in St. John's.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press