Halifax enters lockdown as health officials attempt to contain COVID-19 outbreak

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HALIFAX — As the Halifax area went into its first full day of a four-week lockdown Friday, health officials reported another 44 new cases of COVID-19.

Officials said 33 new infections were identified in the Halifax area, including at five schools. The school-based cases were reported Thursday afternoon and included in Friday's count.

The province has 150 active reported cases of COVID-19 and four people in hospital with the disease.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said in a news release Friday that while the majority of cases were identified in the Halifax area, COVID-19 "can easily find its way into other parts of the province."

"We must all remain vigilant and continue working to limit spread within and beyond Halifax."

Premier Iain Rankin announced the "circuit breaker" health order on Thursday, after officials reported 38 new infections — the largest single-day increase since 55 cases were recorded on April 23, 2020.

The new restrictions limit outdoor and indoor gatherings to five people and prohibit large gatherings, including social events, festivals, sports and wedding receptions. People are also asked not to travel into or out of the Halifax area unless absolutely necessary.

Of the cases reported Friday outside the Halifax region, five were in the eastern health zone, four in the western zone and two in the northern zone.

One case in the Halifax region involves a staff member at The Ivy Meadows, a long-term care facility in Beaver Bank. Health officials said that facility is closed to visitors and to designated caregivers, adding that residents are isolating in their rooms as a precaution. They said the majority of residents are fully vaccinated.

The school-based cases involve Dartmouth South Academy, Ross Road School in Westphal, Holland Road Elementary in Fletchers Lake, and St. Catherine's Elementary and St. Joseph's-Alexander McKay Elementary in Halifax. Each school has one case.

Officials said students at Dartmouth South Academy and Ross Road School would move to at-home learning for a two-week period — a restriction imposed on several schools as part of the lockdown.

Justice officials said Friday that beginning next week, all in-person proceedings at provincial courts will be suspended for four weeks in Halifax and Dartmouth.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia Health said its notification system for potential exposures will no longer include exposures in the Halifax area deemed low risk, including at retail and grocery stores. The department said locations will only be included in public advisories if people need to self-isolate.

"Given the risk of community transmission in the central zone, everyone should consider getting tested for COVID-19, not just those present at specific exposure locations," the health authority said in a news release issued Thursday.

Health officials again warned that there are signs of community spread of COVID-19 in the Halifax area, but said they had not detected it in the province's eastern, northern or western zones.

Later on Friday, health officials reported two more school-based cases outside the Halifax area. They said the cases, involving Cobequid Educational Centre in Truro, N.S., and Shipyard Elementary in Sydney, N.S., will be included in Saturday's report.

The schools are to remain closed to students until next Thursday for cleaning.

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

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press