P.E.I. will open up to Canadians from outside Atlantic Canada who are vaccinated against COVID-19 and have a PEI Pass as of July 18, which is 10 days earlier than planned, Premier Dennis King announced Tuesday.
Those people will not have to self-isolate after arriving on the Island, starting in just under three weeks. Islanders who travel outside Atlantic Canada will also not need to isolate upon their return, as long as they have a PEI Pass.
The premier was speaking at the province's regular biweekly pandemic briefing, along with Chief Public Health Officer Heather Morrison.
King said the reopening date is being moved up based partly on the experience of the last few days — the province reopened to vaccinated Atlantic Canadians on Sunday — and partly on higher vaccination rates for Islanders aged 12 and up.
Provincial staff have been conducting molecular-based rapid tests for COVID-19 at the Island's points of entry since Sunday. Out of more than 4,000 tests done to date, there were five presumptive positive tests but no confirmed cases of COVID-19 after subsequent lab-based PCR tests were done on the five individuals.
"Those results from testing are giving us confidence so we can move to further reduce border measures in coming weeks," said King.
Vaccine campaign in full swing
The province is targeting to have half of eligible Islanders fully vaccinated with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by mid-July, including perhaps 70 per cent of those aged 60 and up, who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Morrison said the rate of vaccine takeup has been strong, with more than 82 per cent eligible Islanders now vaccinated with at least one shot. That is an important factor in her comfort about further opening the border 10 days ahead of the original planned date of July 28.
"That target has been really important," said Morrison. "I certainly will be less worried knowing that if there are cases of COVID, we'll be better protected."
Morrison noted that people who are granted a PEI Pass based on having one dose of a vaccine don't have to get it updated to reflect getting the second dose. Also, effective immediately, the province dropped a requirement for 12- to 18-year-olds to wait three weeks after their first dose before becoming eligible for a pass.
So far, the province has received more than 64,000 applications for its PEI Pass, and has processed 60 per cent of those.
Unvaccinated people will still have to isolate after travel outside the region, Morrison said.
Fewer tests in days and weeks ahead?
King suggested the results from this week's border testing may mean that testing requirements for Atlantic Canadians at the provincial border could be eased soon, especially with regard to fully vaccinated people.
He said they are also looking at testing only two people in each carload of incoming visitors.
There were also questions about whether people arriving on P.E.I. by ferry could be rapid-tested aboard the Northumberland Ferries vessel during the 75-minute crossing from Nova Scotia, so that they could get on the road more quickly after reaching Wood Islands.
"Absolutely we are hoping that we are able to move onto the ferry," said Morrison, adding that issues with wifi connectivity on the boats have prevented the move so far. "They are actively working on that."
Fewer masks, more dancing
On another topic, effective immediately, people attending indoor events such as concerts and church services will no longer have to wear a mask while seated, though they have to be put back on when moving around a church or other venue.
As well, dancing will once more be permitted at weddings, though not at nightclubs or festivals.
"We do recommend against dancing or other close activities anywhere if you are unvaccinated or immuno-compromised," Morrison said.
P.E.I. did announce one new case of COVID-19 on Tuesday, a person in their 50s with a history of travel outside of Atlantic Canada.
COVID-19 cases on P.E.I.
The person is asymptomatic and self-isolating, Morrison said.
This is the first new case since June 3. P.E.I. has had no active cases since June 15.
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