HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is opening its provincial boundary with New Brunswick on Saturday, citing low COVID-19 case numbers in both provinces.
Premier Iain Rankin made the announcement Friday — one day after the four Atlantic premiers announced the return of the regional travel bubble by April 19.
Rankin said effective at 8 a.m. Saturday, New Brunswick residents travelling to Nova Scotia will not have to isolate for two weeks, while Nova Scotians returning home from the neighbouring province also won't have to quarantine for 14 days.
The premier said the change was made on the recommendation of chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang because both provinces have similar COVID-19 case levels.
"I know this will make life easier for Nova Scotians who have family in New Brunswick or who work in New Brunswick," Rankin told reporters during a briefing.
Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 Friday along with 17 active infections, while New Brunswick reported two new cases and 48 active infections.
Rankin also said restrictions that have remained in place in the Halifax area will be lifted Saturday, leaving the entire province under the same rules.
Among the changes, limits on household gatherings will rise from 10 to as many as 20 people, while restaurants and licensed establishments will be required to stop service by 11 p.m. and close by midnight. They had been forced to stop serving clients at 10 p.m. and close an hour later.
Businesses and organizations will be allowed to host up to 150 people outdoors or operate at 50 per cent capacity to a maximum of 100 people outside, and visitors will once again be permitted inside long-term care facilities, adult residential centres and regional rehabilitation centres.
"We cannot forget that things can change quickly," Strang said. "Until the majority of Nova Scotians have received their first dose of vaccine and we have a high level of protection from the virus, we will need to keep following all of the COVID protocols and using restrictions as necessary."
Meanwhile, Strang defended his decision to reverse his position and move front-line police officers ahead in the province's vaccination schedule.
Earlier this month, front-line police officers were quietly added to a list of people eligible for vaccination during the second phase of the province's rollout plan, joining groups such as long-haul truck drivers and hospital workers over the age of 60.
Strang had previously suggested that officers weren't at the same risk as other workers listed in Phase 2. He said he now understands that police are often first responders at the scene of a public "medical event."
"All we are doing is treating front-line officers the same as medical first responders who are firefighters … and paramedics," Strang said.
He also defended the pace at which Nova Scotians are being vaccinated; national tracking places the province last when it comes to vaccinations per 100,000 residents or as a percentage of the population.
Strang said Nova Scotia's low case numbers allowed it to hold back half the initial shipments of vaccine doses as booster shots within the three-to-four-week time frame recommended by vaccine makers.
The province changed its policy after national guidelines recommended extending the interval between doses up to four months, but the government needed to fulfil its commitment to people vaccinated earlier, he added. Strang said everyone who was told they would get a booster shot within a three-to-four-week interval will receive one by early next month.
"I'm not really concerned about where we are now compared to other provinces because I know we are on a trajectory to be very effective in getting all Nova Scotians (vaccinated) over the next two to three months," he said.
Strang said the province would release more detailed information about its vaccine rollout during a technical briefing on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press