This Week’s Announcements Have Dented Confidence in Nova Scotia’s COVID Strategy

Tuesday’s announcement about vaccine rollout was misleading in a way that mostly went unnoticed. The same day’s abrupt reversal of direction on travel restrictions made all the news.

Start with the vaccines. The announcement said: “The province is extending clinic hours … so all Nova Scotians can be fully vaccinated by the end of August.” Later it continued “Having high coverage rates with two doses of vaccine is key to safely reopening. Our ability to move up our timeline from end of September to end of August demonstrates that we have a strong vaccine rollout.”

Taken literally this says that 100% of Nova Scotians, not just those 12 and up, must have two doses of vaccine before we can safely open up.

The 75% threshold for first doses will be passed this weekend. It is the requirement for phase 4 for which we have to wait until July 14th. Given the huge increase in vaccine supply and Nova Scotians’ enthusiasm for getting vaccinated, we could pass 75% for second dose in the first half of August.

Meanwhile the numbers of new cases, active cases, and people with COVID in hospital are dropping everywhere in Canada and in the United States.

This was a strange moment for Premier Rankin to announce severe restrictions on travel between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which has since June 16th allowed Canadians with at least one dose of vaccine to travel there without having to test or quarantine.

Anyone coming from New Brunswick, including returning Nova Scotians, must isolate until receiving a negative test. Those with only one dose would still have to isolate for seven days. This is hugely disruptive to travel for business, pleasure, or family visits.

The “threat” which we are containing is that a vaccinated person from Ontario becomes infected and visits New Brunswick and infects their vaccinated cousin in Moncton who owns a gas station and infects a vaccinated and masked Nova Scotian buying pop and chips.

A slight climbdown on Thursday allows fully vaccinated people to skip the negative test, but people from outside Atlantic Canada will still have extensive isolations after June 30th unless they have had two doses.

The premier’s action is attributed to the more contagious Delta variant. Surely the rapid drop in cases among Ontario’s 15 million people who have travelled freely about their province suggests that this is not a problem requiring immediate action.

Even uber-cautious PEI is scheduled to open its borders without testing on June 27th to vaccinated Canadians.

The premier had a more balanced response available. He and Doctor Strang could have labelled their concern and said that they would be watching cases in New Brunswick closely and would reinstitute controls if there was an upsurge there.

In that unlikely event, and some of it leaked into Nova Scotia, the very high protection that even one dose provides against serious illness will mitigate the consequences.

The premier pleads that he just needs another week to be comfortable. He should have spent that week watching, not pre-empting a problem that will probably not occur and will be manageable if it does. New Brunswick has shown remarkable success in confining outbreaks to a zone and tamping them down there.

Back to the vaccine release. The department clarified that vaccinations are anticipated only for 12 and ups, and the threshold for phase 5 is 75% of ALL Nova Scotians, about 85% of the eligible population, having their second dose.

This sets the stage for another conflict with New Brunswick and other provinces, all of which will be reopening based on criteria not as strict as Nova Scotia’s.

New Brunswick is planning to lift all restrictions on August 3rd if 75% of eligible people have their second dose. Is Rankin then going to insist that they and visitors from all other provinces isolate in Nova Scotia until they have a negative test, regardless of vaccination status?

Is Rankin going to insist that unvaccinated visitors isolate when Nova Scotia reaches his highest-in-Canada rule for phase 5, which is supposed to confer herd immunity?

If the experience of provinces opening early is consistently good, is it within the realm of possibility for him and Dr. Strang to acknowledge that their approach is more cautious than necessary?

The goodwill of the tourism industry that was bought at a cost of $18.2 million on June 15th has been entirely eroded. It will turn into outright hostility if Rankin continues to insist that travellers from outside the bubble must isolate and be tested if their province, or country, has not reached Nova Scotia’s required rate of vaccination. If so, say a permanent goodbye to tourists from the United States.

As Atlantic Canada opens up to the rest of the country, and in due course to the world, we need to learn from what is happening in those jurisdictions and adapt to it. This week’s announcements seem oblivious to that need.

The greatest damage this week is not just to tourism. It is the dent in the confidence Nova Scotians have had that there is a safe pair of hands at the wheel.


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