HALIFAX — Nova Scotia entered the first phase of its five-step reopening plan Wednesday as it reported two more COVID-19 deaths and its first case of vaccine-induced blood clotting.
The province's chief medical officer of health said two men in their 60s had died from COVID-19 in the Halifax area, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 87 since the pandemic began.
"Despite declining cases, the third wave continues to have tragic impacts," Dr. Robert Strang told reporters.
Strang also reported 17 new cases of novel coronavirus and confirmed the province's first case of a rare blood clotting condition known as vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia.
He said it involves a man in his 40s who received his first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in early May. The man developed symptoms about two weeks after vaccination and is recovering after receiving treatment.
Strang noted news of the clotting case follows the province's decision announced Tuesday to resume the use of AstraZeneca for second doses only. People who received a first dose of AstraZeneca will also have the option of choosing Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech for their second dose if they prefer. The announcement came after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization updated its guidance on the mixing of vaccines approved for use by Health Canada.
"The recommendations will give us much more flexibility with our vaccine program, and it will be based on choice and informed consent," Strang said.
Strang said that given uncertainties around the province's supply of the Moderna vaccine, it's likely people will receive the Pfizer shot, adding that at some point "we may not have Moderna as a choice."
Nova Scotia has about 2,000 doses of AstraZeneca set to expire at the end of the month. Health officials said if the remaining supply is used and there is more demand for AstraZeneca second doses, they will request more of that vaccine. The province said about 58,000 Nova Scotians have received a first dose of AstraZeneca.
Meanwhile, restaurant patios opened at full capacity Wednesday as Phase 1 of the province's reopening plan kicked into gear. Schools also reopened across most of the province and will reopen Thursday in the Halifax and Sydney areas.
The development offered a glimmer of hope to a province that had been under lockdown since April 28, primarily because of virus outbreaks in the Halifax and Sydney areas.
The reopening is to proceed in two- to four-week increments depending on the province's number of infections, its vaccine rollout and the capacity of its health-care system to manage new virus cases.
However, Premier Iain Rankin has been under pressure from businesses in the tourism sector, including hotels, to provide more specific dates for the province's plan in order to help travellers make arrangements.
"I have heard you and I understand that this is hard," Rankin said. "We are taking a slow and steady approach. I understand you want some clarity and certainty, but with COVID, nothing is for sure."
Still, while Rankin didn't set target dates he provided rough estimates on when each new phase would likely begin.
He said if everything goes as planned, the third phase would likely begin by June 30, which would allow residents from the other Atlantic provinces to travel in and out of the province.
Rankin said travellers from elsewhere in Canada might also see quarantine requirements eventually relaxed through the development of a proof-of-vaccine strategy.
"This work is being done at the national table, but we are doing our own planning as well," he said, adding the province should be in a position to welcome visitors from across Canada by July 14.
Nova Scotia has 311 active cases of novel coronavirus, with 38 people in hospital, including 15 in intensive care.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press