Any Nova Scotian who wants a COVID-19 vaccine may be able to get their first shot by the end of June, Premier Iain Rankin said Thursday.
The news comes after Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization said Wednesday the maximum interval between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines should increase to four months in order to boost the number of Canadians being vaccinated.
Rankin said given this new span of time, "logic would follow" that Nova Scotia could end its practice of holding back the second dose of vaccines.
Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, is expected to give more details in a Friday press conference.
3 new cases Thursday
Three new cases of the virus were reported in the province on Thursday, bringing the active total to 29 cases.
All of the three new cases are in the central zone. Two are close contacts of previously reported cases, and the other case is under investigation.
Five people are currently in hospital with the virus, including two in intensive care.
East Coast Varsity School, a small private school in Dartmouth, N.S., said in a letter to families that a student had tested positive for COVID-19. The school said any close contacts of the student have been notified and are following public health protocols.
Halifax-area restrictions lifting
Nova Scotia is also lifting restrictions on the Halifax area, less than a week after they were put in place, as COVID-19 cases remain low.
Many of the restrictions that came into effect last Saturday, Feb. 27, around restaurant hours, sport competitions, performances and non-essential travel, will end Friday at 8 a.m.
"Last week we were worried about increased case numbers in Halifax but what we are seeing this week warrants lifting some restrictions early," Rankin said in a release.
Nova Scotia saw 10 new cases of COVID-19 last Friday, the highest number the province has seen since Jan. 6, when 12 new cases were reported. But cases remained below 10 throughout the past week.
"I know that restrictions can have a significant impact on businesses but safety is always the first priority, and I want to thank Nova Scotians for following public health advice as that has allowed us to ease them earlier," Rankin said.
Spike in tests 'critical' to making changes: Strang
The Nova Scotia health authority's labs completed 6,551 Nova Scotia tests on Wednesday.
Strang specifically thanked all the Nova Scotians who turned out for COVID-19 testing over the past week.
"These record numbers helped give us a bigger picture of the virus in HRM and elsewhere in the province. It was critical to this decision," he said in a release.
The following activities will be allowed as of Friday:
Restaurants and bars will return to previous dine-in service requirements, which means stopping service by 10 p.m. and closing by 11 p.m.
Participants and officials in performing arts and sports (recreational, amateur and professional) can gather in groups of up to 60 people without social distancing for rehearsals, performances, practices and regular competitive schedules.
Spectators can attend performing arts and sports events, as long as the host facilities have a gathering plan.
Public school gyms will reopen for after-school use on Saturday.
Weddings and funerals in a faith facility or funeral homes can have 150 people outdoors, or 50 per cent of a space's capacity to a maximum of 100 people indoors. Receptions and visitations are still not permitted in HRM and the surrounding municipalities.
Restrictions remain in long-term care
Rankin and Strang will address the easing of restrictions in more detail at Friday's COVID-19 briefing.
Affected by the restrictions were the suburban and urban areas of Halifax, including Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, Sackville, Cole Harbour, Eastern Passage, Middle Porters Lake, Fall River, Enfield, Lantz, Hammonds Plains, Herring Cove, the Prestons, Lake Echo, Timberlea, Tantallon, Mount Uniacke and St. Margarets Bay.
Restrictions in long-term care facilities are unchanged. Residents can still only have visits from their two designated caregivers, and can only leave the facility for medical appointments or for a drive with a designated caregiver.
This long-term care restriction will remain in effect until March 27 in HRM and certain surrounding municipalities.
As of Wednesday, 37,590 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. Of those, 14,219 Nova Scotians have received their second dose.
Potential COVID-19 exposure
Late Thursday night, the health authority announced a potential COVID-19 exposure on Air Canada Flight 7560 departing from Montreal on Feb. 24 (6:59 p.m.) and arriving in Halifax (9:42 p.m.) for passengers in rows 20-26, seats C, D and F. Anyone exposed may develop symptoms up to, and including, March 10.
People seated in the specified rows and seats should book a COVID-19 test on the self-assessment website or contact 811, regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms.
More appointments available next week
Rankin said some changes have been made in order to avoid a repeat of Monday, when residents age 80 and up could book their COVID-19 vaccination but the booking webpage had to be disabled for several hours due to high traffic numbers.
Moving forward, people will be organized by birth months to limit the number trying to book at once. There is also a larger list of appointments available on Monday.
"Hopefully we're going to be able to streamline the process more and more as we keep moving forward," Rankin said.
Rankin also talked about the plan for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. It will be administered through Doctors Nova Scotia and the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia to Nova Scotians age 50 to 64 on a first-come, first-served voluntary basis, starting the week of March 15.
The premier said the doctor and pharmacy associations will handle the booking platforms and processes for the upcoming AstraZeneca rollout.
The shipment must be used by April 2, and the province said all 13,000 doses will be administered at 26 locations across the province, but those locations have yet to be announced. Rankin said the math works out to about 500 doses per location.
When asked about how the province will avoid a stampede of people showing up to be vaccinated, Rankin said Nova Scotia will establish a plan, and look at what other provinces are doing and what it is receiving from the federal government.
Atlantic Canada case numbers
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