Nova Scotia’s Reopening Plan Is Too Slow

Dr. Robert Strang is deservedly well-liked and respected. He is warm, knowledgeable, and a good communicator. That does not mean he is always right.

He has consistently imposed Canada’s toughest restrictions on Nova Scotians. Nova Scotia has had better results than the large provinces but each of the other Atlantic provinces has experienced lower fewer cases and fewer deaths per 100,000 people.

Strang’s explanation of why we are plodding along the road to reopening while others move more briskly had some holes.

On Tuesday he argued that the two-week wait was necessary because if the transition to the new phase is a source of problems it will take two weeks for them to show up. He pointed to a recent sharp rise in the number of cases in the United Kingdom which is attributed to the Delta variant. The UK is postponing its next opening up by four weeks.

There are several factors that he did not mention.

  1. The opening up that was postponed till mid-July was their step 4 which would “remove all legal limits on social contact”, more open than Nova Scotia’s phase 5. Where they are now is more liberal than Nova Scotia’s phase 3.
  2. The UK has 64% of its population with at least one dose of vaccine. A new study in England suggests that just one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 94 percent effective at keeping people out of hospital if they contract COVID-19 from the Delta variant.

    Not surprisingly, the number of hospitalizations there is growing much more slowly than the number of cases and is largely made up of unvaccinated people.
  3. The Delta variant is also present in the US which has 53% first dose vaccination. Its seven-day average of cases is 85% below what it was two months ago and continues to drop. Canada, with 65% first dose vaccinations, has seen a similarly steep drop in cases, notwithstanding the Delta variant.

Strang mentioned Dr. Theresa Tam’s recommendation that phases should be separated by three weeks. Nova Scotia has five phases, and New Brunswick (NB) and Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) are among the provinces having three. Is he saying that Tam wants Nova Scotia to be six weeks behind the others because we have two more phases?

Nova Scotia has been less than nimble in easing restrictions. It has imposed different restrictions between zones sparingly, especially compared to New Brunswick which used them often, minimizing restrictions in low-risk zones.

In mid-May, Strang and Premier Rankin declared that schools would be closed until at least mid-June. They did not allow for the possibility of rapid drops in cases and hospitalizations. When that happened, schools were reopened earlier but it was stressful for schools and parents. It would have been better to state at the outset that it was a week-to-week process.

Earlier this month, Rankin was unable to agree with other premiers on a date for resuming the Atlantic Bubble. After considerable pressure from the business sector and the actions of the other provinces, Strang and Premier Rankin softened their stance this week.

It was accompanied by $18.2 million of support for tourism operators who finally get to chase the other provinces in pursuit of business. A smaller amount might have done the job at the beginning of June.

On June 16th, New Brunswick entered phase two of its reopening plan, two weeks ahead of schedule because it had reached the necessary rate of 75% first dose vaccinations of 12 and ups.

Nova Scotia has already achieved that level. Strang demands 75% of the entire population which Nova Scotia will nevertheless reach next week. He still insists that we wait for phase 4 until July 14th.

Having achieved the most demanding requirements in Canada, we are rewarded with the least substantial easing in restrictions.

Consider, for example, outdoor group activities. Starting next weekend, Quebec will allow festivals and other events presenting outdoor performances up to a maximum of 2,500 people. New Brunswick is already allowing maximum capacity possible with distancing and an operational plan. Newfoundland and Labrador will allow up to 250 people for sports, art performances, and formal gatherings. Their indoor gathering rules make performing arts feasible.

In Nova Scotia’s phase 4, participants and officials in organized performing arts and sports (recreational, amateur and professional) can gather with up to 25 people indoors and up to 50 people outdoors without social distancing. Spectators are permitted but are included in event gathering limits and need to follow social distancing guidelines. Tournaments are not permitted.

We are then asked to wait until sometime in late summer when there could be further unspecified easing of restrictions.

Nova Scotians have been asked to follow the rules, get vaccinated, get tested, and avoid unnecessary travel. They have stepped up every time. Dr. Strang and his team need a more ambitious plan for easing restrictions.


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