New Brunswick

Only 23% of New Brunswickers comfortable welcoming Atlantic visitors, survey suggests

Less than a quarter of New Brunswickers are comfortable welcoming Atlantic Canadians as visitors to the province as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a survey conducted for the Department of Tourism in mid-May suggests.

Department of Tourism commissioned survey of 400 adults in May, before COVID-19 Atlantic bubble began

Visitors from the other Atlantic provinces don't have to self-isolate now with the Atlantic bubble, but they do still have to go through a screening process at the borders, like this one at Aulac. (CBC/Alexandre Silberman)

Less than a quarter of New Brunswickers are comfortable welcoming Atlantic Canadians as visitors to the province as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a survey conducted for the Department of Tourism in mid-May suggests.

A total of 400 adults were asked to rank their comfort level with welcoming visitors on a 10-point scale, where 10 is "extremely comfortable" and one is "not at all comfortable."

Twenty-three per cent chose one of the top three scores (8-10) when asked about welcoming visitors from the other Atlantic provinces, the survey results from the Atlantic Quarterly show.

Thirty-one per cent chose one of the three lowest comfort scores (1-3), including 19 per cent who said they were not at all comfortable allowing travellers from Nova Scotia, P.E.I. or Newfoundland and Labrador to enter the province.

Another 45 per cent fell somewhere in the middle, while the remaining one per cent either said they didn't know, or they didn't answer.

The mean was 5.1.

This is the second week of the Atlantic bubble, allowing people from the Atlantic provinces to travel within the region for non-essential reasons without having to self-isolate for 14 days after crossing a provincial boundary.

New Brunswick has had checkpoints at its Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Quebec borders since March 25. The Atlantic bubble was portrayed as a big step in recovery after much of the economy was shut down because of the coronavirus.

Premier Blaine Higgs said Tuesday he was aware of the tourism survey results and "that there was reluctance" at the time he and the other Atlantic premiers were making decisions about the bubble.

"There will always be reluctance to change, but we have to kind of move forward," he said.

1 new case

A new confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced in New Brunswick on Tuesday, ending the province's four-day streak without any new cases of the respiratory disease. It brings the province's total number of active cases to two.

The new case involves someone in their 20s in the Moncton region, N.B. public health officials said. The other infected individual is in their 40s in the Fredericton region.

Both cases are travel-related, but not related to the Atlantic bubble

The travel locations have not been disclosed, but Higgs said Tuesday he believes the new case is related to commercial trucking in the United States and the previous case involves international travel.

Pre-Campbellton outbreak

According to the survey, more New Brunswickers felt comfortable welcoming visitors from other parts of the province than their Atlantic neighbours, as of mid-May, which was when the COVID-19 curve had been flattened in New Brunswick and just before the outbreak in the Campbellton region began.

Nearly half of respondents — 48 per cent — chose one of the three highest comfort scores when asked their sentiment about having people visit from within New Brunswick.

When asked about welcoming visitors from other parts of Canada and the United States, where COVID-19 case counts remain high, the comfort levels dropped to 12 per cent and eight per cent respectively.

Many people are taking advantage of the Atlantic bubble. Traffic was backed up for about five kilometres entering New Brunswick on July 9. (CBC/Alexandre Silberman)

Higgs said Tuesday he'd like to extend the Atlantic bubble to include the Gaspésie region of Quebec before the end of the week.

But he has apprehensions about opening up to the rest of Canada right now and thinks that should be pushed back for at least another week, possibly until Aug. 1.

"It's not a decision that I'm making in isolation," Higgs said. "I'd like to have that opportunity to discuss with my colleagues and then decide collectively what's in our best interest."

Higgs and the other Atlantic premiers had initially floated July 17 as a possible date to allow other non-essential Canadian travellers from outside the bubble to visit without requiring a written exemption and a 14-day isolation period. Since then, however, they and other officials have walked back from that date.

All four Atlantic provinces have reported new cases of COVID-19 since the bubble began July 3; all of them related to travel outside the region, according to health officials.

P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said Monday a new case on the island, while not related to the opening of the Atlantic bubble or to seasonal residents, could affect the possibility of a Canadian bubble.

The man in his 40s, who had travelled to P.E.I. on WestJet Flight 654 from Toronto on July 2 and initially tested negative for the coronavirus, is a health-care worker at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. Contact tracing has identified 100 patients and 125 staff at the hospital so far, plus three personal contacts.

"Although ultimately it's not my decision, I believe it would be premature today to be considering a further loosening of our border restrictions and encouraging broader travel," Morrison told reporters.

Travel intentions

The tourism survey, which also measured the travel intentions of New Brunswickers, found 22 per cent have cancelled all their summer travel plans. Thirty-eight per cent said they would be adjusting their plans and staying closer to home.

When asked about the likelihood of travelling this summer or fall if travel bans are lifted, 87 per cent said they definitely or probably would travel within New Brunswick.

Fifty-one per cent said they definitely or probably would travel within Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia, while 38 per cent said within Canada, but outside the Maritimes.

Only 10 per cent said they expected to travel outside of Canada, according to the survey results.

Again, the Department of Tourism did not respond to a request Monday to release the raw data.

Travel concerns

The biggest travel concern, according to the survey, was visitors from other locations coming to New Brunswick, with 80 per cent of respondents answering yes.

Other travel concerns included:

  • Whether businesses will have safety/physical distancing protocols in place: 57 per cent.
  • That there will be restrictive cancellation policies in place: 52 per cent.
  • It will be difficult to know whether businesses are open: 51 per cent.

The majority of respondents, 81 per cent, said they would likely avoid crowds when travelling.

Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) said they would likely choose outdoor activities, such as kayaking, hiking or sightseeing.

And just over half (55 per cent) said they would likely choose indoor activities, such as museums, restaurants or theatres.

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