Nova Scotia will loosen COVID-19 public health restrictions further this week, moving to the next stage of its five-phase reopening plan on Wednesday.
Moving to Phase 4 was contingent on at least 75 per cent of the population receiving at least one dose of vaccine and on the number of new cases being very low, with little ongoing spread of the coronavirus.
"Because of your hard work we can relax the rules," Premier Iain Rankin said Monday during a COVID-19 briefing alongside Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health.
Nova Scotia hit that 75 per cent milestone last Wednesday, Strang said last week, thanks to new data from the military. Public Health is finalizing the addition of 8,000 fully vaccinated Armed Forces members to the provincial database, but they are not yet reflected in the official numbers.
One new case of COVID-19 was reported Monday, bringing the province's active caseload to 37.
Phase 4 would allow for restaurants and bars to resume normal hours and allow retail stores to operate at maximum capacity with public health measures like physical distancing and masking in place.
Masks are no longer required at outdoor places where it is hard to physically distance, such as playgrounds and markets, Strang said.
Children 12 and under will also no longer have to wear masks indoors while in child-care settings or camps, Strang said.
Gathering limits will go up to 25 indoors and 50 outside without distancing, but Strang said people should still try to stick to close social contacts and be careful about who they are seeing.
"We can't act like COVID is all done with," Strang said.
People urged to get second dose
As of Monday, the province reported that 41.1 per cent of the population had received a second dose of vaccine.
Strang said it is vital that adults take advantage of the various ways they can get their second dose, with 50,000 Moderna appointments still available across the province this week.
Although the walk-in vaccine clinic at the Halifax Convention Centre is winding down next week as planned, Strang said community clinics in Bayers Lake and Mic Mac Mall are being opened to walk-ins 18 years and older.
Starting Tuesday, the Nova Scotia health authority confirmed that anyone can drop into the Bayers Lake clinic to receive their first or second dose of vaccine between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.
There will be 200 doses available per day for drop-ins at this clinic, and they are offering Moderna only.
As of Monday, Strang said 150,000 people have not yet moved their second-dose appointment up. Although about 60,000 of those are teens waiting for Pfizer-BioNTech appointments, Strang said that's still 90,000 adults who could get vaccinated sooner.
"Waiting keeps you and others at risk," Strang said, noting that only people with two doses of the vaccine can protect themselves and others against the delta variant of the virus.
If everybody moved up their appointments, Strang said he's hopeful the province could reach the minimum target of 75 per cent fully vaccinated that's needed to move to Phase 5 by the end of August.
No extension on provincial sick-leave program
When asked whether the province will extend its program of four paid sick days for anyone who needed to take time off due to COVID-19, Rankin said there's no longer a "high level of disease activity" in Nova Scotia communities.
The $16-million program was set up in May to address gaps in the federal Canada recovery sickness benefit, he said, which workers are only eligible for after missing at least 50 per cent of their scheduled workweek.
It includes those who need to take time off because they are awaiting a test appointment, those who are getting tested, those who are self-isolating while awaiting test results, and those who are going to get vaccinated.
"We encourage employers to have strong benefits for their employees," Rankin said.
The sick days do not have to be taken consecutively. Any sick days taken between May 10 and July 31 may be eligible for the program, which ends at the end of July.
One new case Monday
The new COVID-19 case reported Monday is in the eastern zone and is a close contact of a previously reported case.
Three people are in hospital with the virus, including one who is in intensive care.
On Sunday, 2,959 COVID-19 tests were processed by the province's labs.
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