Nova Scotia reports 15 new COVID-19 cases, announces airport testing in Halifax

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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia will begin testing travellers who arrive at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport next week and will loosen health orders for vaccinated rotational workers.

Premier Iain Rankin announced both new measures on Friday after he reported 15 new cases of COVID-19, including nine in the Halifax area and six in the Sydney region.

Starting Tuesday, air travellers who arrive in Halifax will be issued a self-swab kit and instructions, Rankin said, adding that taking the tests will not be mandatory. He said the testing measure is a way to help health officials quickly identify and respond to cases.

"I do want to make clear though, this test does not replace the requirement to self-isolate upon entry into our province," Rankin told reporters. "One negative test does not confirm that you do not have COVID."

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said the quarantine requirement would eventually change as the province moves through its five-phase reopening plan.

The first phase began Wednesday and each phase will last two to four weeks, depending on the number of infections in the province, the vaccine rollout and the capacity of the health-care system to manage new cases.

The airport self-swab kit is a PCR test — a lab-based test similar to the one used at primary assessment centres, and people will receive results by phone or email within 72 hours of dropping it off.

Arriving passengers will be assisted by health staff who will be on hand to administer the test or to provide assistance between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. People who arrive later will have to take the test with them and drop it off at a primary assessment centre within 48 hours of completing it.

Also Tuesday, rotational workers who have no COVID-19 symptoms and who have been fully vaccinated at least two weeks before arriving in Nova Scotia will no longer need to self-isolate, although they must get tested three times within a two-week period.

"There were a lot of emails, especially from those (workers) with two doses of vaccine," Rankin said about the change in policy. "Hopefully this will help as you travel back and forth."

Partially vaccinated workers who have received one dose of vaccine two weeks before their arrival in the province will need to self-isolate for one week. Those arriving from an outbreak site will have to quarantine until they get a second negative test.

Officials released figures for the first time Friday on the number of so-called "breakthrough" cases in the province, which are cases involving someone who has become infected two weeks after receiving one or two doses of vaccine. They said 3,902 COVID-19 cases were identified between March 15 and June 1. Of those, 24 people or 0.6 per cent were fully vaccinated, while 187 people, or 4.8 per cent of cases, were partially vaccinated.

There were 19 deaths over that period, including one person who was fully vaccinated and two who had one shot of vaccine.

"Having a small percentage of breakthrough cases is not a surprise," Strang said. "We're not seeing a percentage that would say that we have a problem with the vaccine at all."

Nova Scotia has 251 active reported cases of COVID-19 and 21 people in hospital with the disease, including eight in intensive care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press