HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's premier said Thursday he's not budging from the government's target of getting 75 per cent of all residents vaccinated against COVID-19 before the province enters its final phase of reopening.
The target is "very firm," Tim Houston told reporters following his first cabinet meeting since the Progressive Conservatives won a majority in the Aug. 17 election. The government has said it would enter Phase 5 of the province's reopening plan on Sept. 15 if the vaccination goal is met.
"The 75 per cent is the hurdle that puts us into Phase 5," Houston said. "If that's not met, we don't start Phase 5 until it is."
If the target is reached, then the government will lift COVID-19 restrictions across the province, including masking, physical distancing and limits on gatherings.
As of Thursday, about 71 per cent of all Nova Scotians were fully vaccinated and 78 per cent had received at least one dose of vaccine.
Houston encouraged people to get their shots, with slightly less than two weeks to go until the province can potentially lift all pandemic-related restrictions. "I hope people get out as soon as possible — vaccination is the key," he said.
Meanwhile, students are set to return to classes on Tuesday. Under the province's back-to-school plan, they will be required to wear masks inside school buildings or buses at all times except for limited circumstances, such as eating. But under Phase 5 of the reopening plan, schools will be allowed to transition to optional mask use.
Education Minister Becky Druhan offered reassurances Thursday, saying she recognized some parents are anxious about the potential lifting of the mask mandate.
"We are very confident in the plan that we currently have in place and we will continue to adjust and adapt as needed as epidemiology changes," Druhan said. The minister also said all schools are being inspected for safety ahead of next week's reopening — including their ventilation systems.
Health officials reported five new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 60 active infections across the province.
Three new cases were identified in the Halifax area and officials said two of those had been linked to a known source while the third was under investigation. The remaining cases included one in the western zone that was under investigation and one in the northern zone that was related to travel. Officials said no one in the province was hospitalized with the disease.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press