Delay in Atlantic bubble reopening causes travel issues for post-secondary students

·3 min read

HALIFAX — The recent delay in the Atlantic bubble opening has caused some travel snags for post-secondary students as their semester comes to a close.

Some students who study in one Atlantic province but live in another may have to self-isolate when they go home, while others have found the rules have upended travel plans.

Brittney Dow, a student in the veterinary medicine program at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, said isolation rules in P.E.I. have shot down her original intention to visit family in New Brunswick during her current two-week break.

The isolation required upon her return would have interfered with a clinical rotation set to start May 3.

“I've kind of gone through those stages of grief in a way throughout the semester,” Dow said in an interview Wednesday. "It's been an emotional time, for sure.”

The region's premiers announced April 13 that the reopening of the bubble — which was in place from July to November last year and allowed people to travel between the four Atlantic provinces without having to self-isolate — would be delayed until at least May 3.

The Council of Atlantic Premiers attributed the decision to “the recent surge in cases of COVID-19 in parts of Atlantic Canada and the emergence of more transmissible forms of the virus.”

The premiers said the reopening could be further pushed back to May 10 after they meet next week to review the status of the outbreaks.

Though students returning to New Brunswick after living in P.E.I., Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador aren’t required to self-isolate upon their return, students returning to P.E.I. must complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

For Nova Scotia, students travelling in from Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador don't need to isolate if they're Nova Scotia residents. Those returning from New Brunswick have to isolate for two weeks in a separate space from the rest of the household, though they can share a bathroom.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, all residents of the Atlantic bubble are required to complete a two-week isolation once they arrive in the province.

The increase in cases across the region has also caused some post-secondary institutions to set up new rules for students leaving campus.

Unlike most schools in Canada's harder hit provinces, universities and colleges in the Atlantic region have benefited from low case counts, and many have been able to offer in-person learning. But as the semester ends, the pandemic has forced new move-out protocols.

Cindy MacKenzie, the media relations manager at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., said in an emailed statement that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parents aren’t allowed in residences to help their children move out.

Instead, the school has hired staff to provide help.

“We have communicated with students and parents that those from out of province are to be isolated for the time they are in the province, and limit any time spent within the community,” MacKenzie said.

Dalhousie University in Halifax has also notified students that they won’t be allowed a helper for their move, media relations director Janet Bryson said in an email statement.

Meanwhile, Dow said she will remain in P.E.I. for the duration of her rotation and it's likely she won't get a chance to see her family until the Christmas holidays.

She said despite the difficulties that comes with having travel and isolation rules, she's aware of the concerns around lifting restrictions too soon.

"I understand why they couldn't open the bubble, but it doesn't mean that people aren't still hurting because of it," Dow said. "I think it's good for people to know and consider what everyone's going through."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press