New Brunswick

Majority of Atlantic Canadians oppose opening up bubble in next month, survey suggests

The majority of Atlantic Canadians oppose opening up the region to the rest of the country within the next month and dropping the 14-day quarantine for incoming travellers, according to a new survey.

79% have not travelled outside home province since Atlantic bubble was announced

A peace officer directs traffic at the Aulac point of entry into New Brunswick from Nova Scotia. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The majority of Atlantic Canadians oppose opening up the region to the rest of the country within the next month and dropping the 14-day quarantine for incoming travellers, according to a new survey.

More than three-quarters of Atlantic Canadian respondents (77 per cent) are against the idea, with four in 10 (42 per cent) completely opposed, and 35 per cent mostly opposed, the figures from Halifax-based Narrative Research show.

"Atlantic Canadians are clearly uncomfortable with the anticipated risk associated with opening our borders," Margaret Brigley, CEO and partner of Halifax-based Narrative Research, said in a statement Thursday.

"We've taken much action in the past five months, through efforts like social distancing, remote working, personal bubbles, a regional bubble, and wearing masks. These have collectively paid off and put the region in an enviable position with minimal to no cases and no evidence of community spread.

"But findings suggest that residents are not confident that safety measures in place would protect us from a viral spread if borders were to open."

The four provinces have COVID-19 checkpoints at their borders, but under the Atlantic bubble, which began July 3, residents have been able to travel within the region for non-essential reasons without having to self-isolate for 14 days after crossing a provincial boundary.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said earlier this week no decisions have been made about welcoming visitors from the rest of the country, but talks among the Atlantic premiers are ongoing.

Recent outbreaks in other parts of the country don't make them "anxious" to open up, he said.

As of Thursday, New Brunswick has nine active cases of COVID-19, eight of whom are temporary foreign workers from Mexico. Nova Scotia has reported no new cases of the respiratory disease for 11 straight days. P.E.I.  has five active cases, all essential workers from outside Canada in an industry not related to health care. Newfoundland and Labrador has two active cases related to the Hudson & Rex television series being filmed in St. John's.

Narrative Research conducted the online survey last week to "assess public perceptions and behaviours related to COVID-19," as Atlantic Canada entered its sixth month of the pandemic.

Nearly 3,400 adults from its online panel, East Coast Voice, participated.

Opposition to reopening the Atlantic borders to the rest of Canada was strongest among Nova Scotians at 80 per cent.

This, despite the fact that Nova Scotia's borders have never been closed to visitors.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, anyone from any province or territory has been able to enter Nova Scotia for any reason as long as they self-isolated for 14 days, Heather Fairbairn, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness has confirmed.

Once those visitors have completed their self-isolation, they have then been able to travel freely within the three Maritime provinces, under the terms of the Atlantic bubble. (Newfoundland and Labrador allows only Maritime residents to enter, unless they have been granted exemptions.)

Newfoundland residents were close behind in opposition at 76 per cent, followed by New Brunswick at 74 per cent, and Prince Edward Island at 73 per cent.

"When it comes to reopening the Canadian borders to the United States within the next month, essentially all Atlantic Canadians oppose the prospect," Narrative Research said in a statement. "Little support for such an action is evident, and opposition is strong," with 88 per cent completely opposed.

Sticking close to home

Since the bubble was announced, the vast majority of Atlantic Canadians (79 per cent) have not ventured outside their home province, according to the survey.

Only two in 10 (21 per cent) respondents had either personally travelled, or had someone in their household travel, to another Atlantic province.

P.E.I. residents were the most likely to have travelled within the Atlantic bubble, at 38 per cent.

Earlier this summer, the Island made national news over vehicles with out-of-province plates being vandalized and incidents of so-called plate-shaming.

New Brunswickers were the next most likely to have taken a trip within the region at 28 per cent, followed by Nova Scotia at 20 per cent. Newfoundland residents, meanwhile, have been unlikely to travel at seven per cent.

Those who have traveled are more likely to be under the age of 55 and higher household income earners, the survey found.

Satisfaction with the Atlantic bubble travel arrangements put in place by the provincial governments is high among travellers. 

New Brunswick and P.E.I. residents are most likely to be satisfied at 90 per cent, followed Nova Scotia at 86 per cent and Newfoundland at 76 per cent.

Only about three per cent of Atlantic Canadians have travelled outside the region, within Canada, since the pandemic started. New Brunswickers led the pack at four per cent, while Islanders were at just one per cent.

The survey was conducted Aug. 5-9 with 3,373 Atlantic Canadians (NB: 1,115, N.S: 1,547, P.E.I.: 220, NL: 491) aged 18 or older, from East Coast Voice.

Using data from the 2016 Census, the results were weighted by gender, age, and region to reflect population characteristics.

As a "non-probability sample," —  a panel sample where residents have joined a panel to share their opinions — a margin of error was not applied, which is in accordance with CRIC Public Opinion Research Standards, Narrative Research said in a statement.

But the overall margin of error would be roughly +/- two percentage points.

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