Rankin Owes Nova Scotians A Clear Path To Reopening

Nova Scotians have been asked to meet the most rigorous criteria in Canada prior to opening up. They have responded both in observing public health measures and lining up for vaccines.

They nevertheless experience an unnecessary degree of uncertainty concerning when and how covid restrictions will be relaxed. It is a disgrace to call an election before there is a clear path forward.

To set the scene. Daily case counts and the number of people in hospital are in the low single digits. First dose vaccinations have passed the 75% of total population goal, thanks to the addition of 8,000 Canadian forces members who were fully vaccinated weeks ago. Their status must have been known by public health for some time but has only recently been disclosed.

First doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are known to provide strong protection against serious illness including the delta variant. We are nevertheless asked to reach the same 75% level of second doses before moving to phase 5.

Meanwhile in New Brunswick, they moved to their phase 2 on June 16th based on their less rigorous standard of 75% of population 12 and up. Since that time, Canadians with one dose of the vaccine have been able to enter without having to quarantine. Nova Scotia has insisted on two doses, which means the $2.8 million advertising campaign to attract tourists from other parts of Canada has been irrelevant to half of them.

That difference led to an ugly standoff at the border in late June. New Brunswick’s experience since then has continued to be better than Nova Scotia’s, including an entire week with no new cases.

More importantly, New Brunswick has set a clear requirement for the next step, which will require 75% of New Brunswickers age 12 and up to have their second dose. When that is achieved, expected before the end of July, the province will move to the Green level and all restrictions will be lifted.

New Brunswick is not alone. British Columbia has a vaccination profile like Nova Scotia’s and more cases per capita. Since late June, masks are recommended but no longer mandatory, and they can have unlimited indoor and outdoor personal gatherings. Grocery stores don’t require directional arrows in the aisles. Saskatchewan lifted all public health restrictions on July 1st.

Nova Scotia just moved into phase 4 which continues to restrict travellers, gatherings, sports and performing arts, faith gatherings, weddings, and funerals among others. Masks and social distancing requirements are continued.

And what of phase 5? The meager website text does not promise a full reopening: “During phase 5 of Nova Scotia’s reopening plan, we start to move into living during COVID-19. This includes easing public health measures and supporting ongoing expanded travel into Nova Scotia.”

When does phase 5 begin? On Monday Dr. Strang said sometime between August and October. On Wednesday he implied that it would be weeks before we would know what phase 5 looks like.

This uncertainty does enormous damage. The continuing requirements dull the vibe in refreshment and entertainment venues. It is impossible for performing arts organizations to plan a season. How can hockey leagues and recreation facilities plan a schedule? Tourists uninterested in wading through details of restrictions will choose other provinces for the important fall season.

Do the universities know what they are supposed to do with their out-of-province students? Do schools have the needed protocols for September?

Notice that these issues go well beyond the remit of the Department of Health. They involve Education, Labour and Advanced Education, Culture and Heritage, Tourism, and Inclusive Economic Growth, just to name a few of the affected departments.

Premier Rankin’s claim that it is fine for Dr. Strang to go it alone for a month during an election campaign is completely irresponsible. He is perpetrating the disabling impacts of the uncertainty and evading responsibility for political decisions that need to be made.

As of July 17th, and including the fully vaccinated military members, more than 50% of Nova Scotians had received a second dose. We already have in hand enough doses to get past 70% with lots more to come, so neither supply nor distribution capacity will be an obstacle to reaching the 75% goal by the end of July or early August at the latest.

Before an election is called Nova Scotians need and deserve a detailed description of what Phase 5 will look like and a clear idea of when that will occur. That date should be in August.


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