New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says Nova Scotia is reviewing a proposal that might help resolve a dispute about their respective COVID-19 reopening plans and ease growing tensions on both sides of the border.
Higgs had a phone meeting with Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin and the other Atlantic premiers late Wednesday afternoon, as a highway blockade near the main border crossing between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick continued.
Dozens of people began protesting on the Trans-Canada Highway near Amherst on Tuesday afternoon after Rankin announced that all travellers from New Brunswick must continue to isolate upon arrival, even if they're fully vaccinated, while people from Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador will enjoy freer travel.
He cited New Brunswick's decision last week to open its borders to all Canadians, with no isolation required for people who have had at least one dose of vaccine.
At least two people were arrested Wednesday evening as the RCMP moved in to clear the blockade that had stretched beyond 19 hours, creating long waits for motorists, leaving truckers stranded with loads of goods, and affecting some health services.
Higgs said he offered during Wednesday's call to share with Nova Scotia the information the province gathers from travellers entering New Brunswick from outside the Atlantic region, such as names, proof of vaccination and registration.
"We can give the information to you and you can decide if [the travellers] need to isolate or you want to do additional testing or whatever, based on your particular protocols," he recounted of the conversation during an interview on CBC's Shift.
That way, Nova Scotia can decide how it wants to handle people coming in from the rest of Canada, while the Atlantic provinces can "get on with the bubble," with free movement between the four provinces.
"So that's being contemplated right now with the Public Health officer and the premier."
Since the beginning of the pandemic, New Brunswick has been the "safeguard" to Atlantic Canada, monitoring the Quebec border and New Brunswick airports, and that hasn't changed, Higgs said
He noted 62 vehicles were turned away on Tuesday because they didn't meet New Brunswick requirements. "This includes vehicles heading to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador that do not meet the requirements of those provinces."
Part of Nova Scotia's evaluation will include details, such as how New Brunswick's information would be shared, how often and how the province would manage its border to meet its requirements, said Higgs.
"P.E.I. has been doing this from the very beginning and Newfoundland's been doing that for travellers coming in to their province so this isn't anything that's new in that sense," he added.
In an interview with As It Happens, Rankin confirmed his province is reviewing Higgs's proposal, but didn't commit to any timeline to respond.
Although the meeting didn't end with a consensus among the four Atlantic premiers about opening borders, Rankin suggested looser restrictions may come by Canada Day.
"I'm asking people at the border and others that want to travel in and out that, just wait another week," he said.
On Tuesday, Rankin said travellers from other parts of Canada will be allowed into the province by June 30, provided they follow quarantine rules when they arrive.
Higgs believes all four Atlantic provinces will be ready to open to Canada around July 1.
"So we're only talking a week here."
He's confident they will work through their differences, he said, and had called for an end to the blockade at Exit 7 of Highway 104 of the Cobequid Pass.
Although he understands everyone is "very tired of COVID," he said he's "disappointed," and urged people to "not lose sight of the big goal."
"This isn't a time to lose control, or lose patience, or cause disruptions to our friends and neighbours.
"We are on the cusp here of getting back to green," the restriction-free COVID recovery level.
He's never been more confident in the path forward as New Brunswick and as an Atlantic region, he said.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, defended the province's decision to open its borders to all Canadians.
During the COVID briefing, she reiterated that the province's plan to open up was laid out on May 27 and tied to vaccination rate targets.
"We took this action because it was what we said we would do when we set out on our path to green last month," she said.
"We did not act in haste, or without due consideration for the safety of New Brunswickers."
The steps the province has taken have been "based on science and grounded in evidence," said Russell. They are based on the reduced risk of COVID outbreaks due to declining case numbers across Canada, the province's rising vaccination rates, and the capacity of the health-care system to handle outbreaks when they occur.
"Are we in a risk free environment? Absolutely not. If we waited for the risk of COVID-19 to decline to zero, restrictions would still be in place and would remain in place for the foreseeable future."
No last-minute changes by Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador is not planning any last-minute border restriction changes for New Brunswickers, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.
Asked Wednesday whether the province shares Nova Scotia's concerns about New Brunswickers now that the province has opened up to the rest of Canada, Fitzgerald said Newfoundland and Labrador still sees no need for any isolation or testing requirements.
New Brunswick has good vaccination rates, its case numbers are low and its epidemiology is "quite favourable," she said.
"So at the moment, we don't see that need to do that. You know, it's a very similar situation to what we had last summer," when the Atlantic provinces had an Atlantic bubble, allowing residents to move freely between borders.
The province will continue to monitor the situation very closely, said Fitzgerald. If New Brunswick's case count starts to increase, it may need to "rethink things."
"But, you know, at the moment, I think we're good to go on as we had planned."
1 new case, 43 active cases
New Brunswick announced one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, putting the province's total active cases at 43.
The person over the age of 90 is in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, and is a contact of a previously confirmed case.
Five people are hospitalized in the province, including two in intensive care.
New Brunswick has had 2,320 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 2,231 recoveries so far and 45 COVID-related deaths. A total of 358,608 tests have been conducted, including 464 on Tuesday.
Vaccinations continue to rise
New Brunswick's vaccination rate continues to rise after a single-day record of people signing up to receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
A total of 21.5 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers had received a second dose of the vaccine as of Wednesday.
The province has set the target to have 75 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 and older vaccinated with two doses by Aug. 2, New Brunswick Day.
All New Brunswickers aged 12 or older can book a second-dose vaccine appointment if at least 28 days have passed since their first dose.
The percentage of eligible New Brunswickers who received their first dose budged slightly for the first time since Monday, to 76.5 per cent.
Atlantic COVID roundup
Nova Scotia reported no new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, and the number of active cases has fallen to 60.
Newfoundland and Labrador has no new cases and has 13 active cases.
Prince Edward Island has reported no new cases since June 3, and has no active cases.
Latest public exposures
Public Health has identified new potential public exposures to the virus in the following regions:
Saint John region, Zone 2:
Needs Fast Fuel, 100 Main St., Sussex, June 13, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Fredericton region, Zone 3:
Holy Rosary Church Hall, 26 Father Dysart Lane, Minto, June 15, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Pentecostal Gospel Lighthouse Church, 283 Slope Rd., Minto, June 6 to June 18.
Public Health is offering COVID-19 testing to anyone who has been in a public exposure area, even if they are not experiencing any symptoms. Residents may request a test online or call Tele-Care 811.
People experiencing one or more symptoms are also encouraged to get tested.
Previous public exposures
Public Health has identified numerous potential public exposures to the coronavirus in many communities across the province, so many that it has stopped listing them individually in its daily news release.
A detailed list of the potential exposures, including the locations and dates, is available on the government's COVID-19 website. It is updated regularly.
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included:
Fever above 38 C.
New cough or worsening chronic cough.
New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should:
Stay at home.
Call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor.
Describe symptoms and travel history.