HALIFAX — As the province locked down Wednesday and military members joined Nova Scotia's effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Premier Iain Rankin said the measures are part of a broader strategy to beat back the virus.
"We are limiting movement, we are testing at a record rate to detect the virus and we are rolling out our vaccine," Rankin said as health officials reported 75 new COVID-19 cases. The figure was down from the record 96 cases reported by the province Tuesday.
The premier announced that as early as Friday, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would be offered to people 40 to 54 years old. Rankin added that by the end of Wednesday, more than 300,000 doses of vaccine will have been administered across the province.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said cancelled appointments for AstraZeneca shots as other vaccines become available have opened availability of AstraZeneca, with as many as 10,000 doses still unused.
Rankin meanwhile said the province is working to alleviate child care pressures for essential workers while schools are closed over the next two weeks, asking those who can to give up their spaces temporarily.
He said the province would cover the cost and ensure that spaces are available when the provincial shutdown ends and school resumes.
Under the lockdown, all schools and non-essential indoor services are closed across the province for two weeks, indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to household bubbles and people are prohibited from leaving their communities, except for essential travel.
Sixty-seven of Wednesday's new infections were in the Halifax area, six were in the province's eastern zone and the western and northern health zones each had one new case. Nova Scotia has 489 active reported infections with 11 people in hospital, including three in intensive care.
A staff member at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax was among the newly identified infections. Strang has said the case at Northwood, where 53 of the province's 67 virus-related deaths occurred last spring, is giving him the "least anxiety" during the current outbreak because the majority of residents and staff are already vaccinated.
Janet Simm, Northwood's chief executive said in an interview Wednesday that the case was to be expected, given there are 2,000 workers employed at the facility's two campuses.
"It's not a surprise. We are a reflection of what's happening in our community," said Simm. "The words from Dr. Strang yesterday were very reassuring ... not just for families but for our staff at Northwood as well."
The facility said that 94 per cent of Northwood's nearly 385 residents are fully vaccinated. About 80 per cent of staff have also been vaccinated, and Simm said most of them have received both shots, though she didn't have an exact number.
"We are awaiting the results of the tests, and in the meantime residents are being isolated in their rooms," she said.
With demand for testing up, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Army deployed about 75 members to assist at provincial COVID-19 testing centres across the province, responding to a call for help from the Rankin government.
Navy Lt. Stephenie Murray was among the military members helping people seeking COVID-19 tests at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax, where two dozen sailors are working in shifts to ease the burden on health-care workers.
Outside the temporary clinic, sailors were greeting people as they arrived for the tests, and there were other members of the navy inside helping at sanitation stations.
"Everybody here has been great as they come through," said Murray, the underwater warfare officer on board HMCS Montreal, a frigate based in Halifax.
Graham Poole, a Halifax resident who was among those seeking a COVID-19 test at the Canada Games Centre, said Nova Scotians remain positive about their situation, despite the recent surge in cases.
"The outbreak that we're having just shows how completely dangerous this virus can be, and how it can spread even with the controls in place,” he said. “I think Nova Scotians are optimistic that we can get this in hand and get through the next couple of months."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2021.
— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press