HALIFAX — Nova Scotia reported two more COVID-19 deaths and 84 new infections Friday, as the premier announced another $17 million for small businesses struggling under a provincewide lockdown.
Officials said two men in their 70s died in hospital in the Halifax area, bringing the total number of deaths from the disease in the province to 76. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said there have been eight COVID-19 deaths this month.
"The passing of these eight Nova Scotians within 11 days is a stark reminder that we are continuing to face a very serious situation," Strang told reporters. "While our case numbers are slowly trending downward, we are not able to relax our guard yet."
He said 66 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in the Halifax area, which has borne the brunt of the current outbreak, adding that 11 cases were in the province's eastern zone, six in the northern zone and one in the western region.
The province has 1,028 active reported cases and 84 people in hospital with the disease, including 21 in intensive care.
Community spread has been identified in the Halifax and Sydney, N.S., areas. Strang said he was encouraged to see that a large number of people turned out for COVID-19 testing in Sydney after the province set up a pop-up rapid test site at the city's downtown arena on Thursday.
"It's an important reminder that across the province we still need people to get tested," he said.
Nova Scotia went into a full lockdown on April 28 when it became clear the novel coronavirus was spreading at a rapid rate, and Premier Iain Rankin announced on Wednesday that restrictions would stay in place for at least another two weeks, until mid-June.
Rankin said Friday he realizes the lockdown is a burden for small businesses that are already hurting because of public health restrictions. He said that a $12-million assistance program announced May 4 will be topped up by an additional $17 million.
Under the program announced Friday, eligible businesses can receive money equalling 15 per cent of their sales revenue for the month of April 2019 or February 2020, up to a maximum of $5,000.
The extra money will top up previous payments made to all eligible small businesses by another $5,000. Business that had already received COVID-19 aid are automatically qualified for money under the new program.
"The next three weeks are critical to get us to where we need to be," Rankin said. "If our (case) numbers continue to go down and our vaccination coverage continues to go up, we will be in a very good place to talk about reopening our economy."
The premier said the vaccination program, which is now offered to those 25 years and up, is accelerating with 40,000 doses administered over the last two days.
Rankin said it's expected the province will reach the milestone of vaccinating 500,000 people with at least one dose on Saturday. As of Thursday, 483,549 doses had been administered, with 40,900 people having received a booster shot.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press