New Brunswick

Has the Atlantic bubble already opened to the rest of Canada?

Premier Blaine Higgs says it will be at least another week before New Brunswick even considers opening up to the rest of Canada, but in a way, it already has through its Atlantic bubble agreement with Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia's borders have never been closed to any visitors, as long as they self-isolate for 14 days

Premier Blaine Higgs says discussions are ongoing about opening up the region to the rest of Canada. (Government of New Brunswick/Submitted)

Premier Blaine Higgs says it will be at least another week before New Brunswick even considers opening up to the rest of Canada, but in a way, it already has through its Atlantic bubble agreement with Nova Scotia.

So has P.E.I.

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, confirmed Heather Fairbairn, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness.

Since the Atlantic bubble started on July 3, those visitors have been able to travel freely within the three Maritime provinces once their isolation is complete. (Newfoundland and Labrador allows only Maritime residents to enter, unless they have been granted exemptions.)

So even though New Brunswick has kept tight reins on those it allows in, and the conditions they have to meet, anyone who wants to get into the province could get in by going through Nova Scotia first.

Higgs told CBC News he was "fully aware" of Nova Scotia's open-door policy and that their visitors could continue on into New Brunswick.

"We have the Atlantic bubble, and the idea of doing that was to allow free travel to people that have isolated, people that we considered that should have free movement within this region," he said.

"We too have been bringing family and friends to New Brunswick, and they would self-isolate for 14 days and then they're allowed to travel around to different provinces in the Atlantic region."

For example, New Brunswick dropped requirements in June for out-of-province workers to self-isolate, even though Nova Scotia still requires workers living in the province and working elsewhere to self-isolate for 14 days when arriving home. 

"So this is a reciprocal kind of program and … so far, it's been working well," said Higgs

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, thinks any outbreaks will be driven by international travellers. (Supplied by Raywat Deonandan)

Epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan, calls it "surprising" and "strange." 

"I thought the bubble idea was that the borders were sealed entirely," said Deonandan, an associate professor with the faculty of health sciences at the University of Ottawa.

It also "makes little sense in terms of control of seeding [COVID-19] events," said Deonandan.

"The entire idea behind a contiguous bubble of adjacent provinces is that there should be consistency of policy around how you manage the borders. That's the only way this works."

It sounds that Nova Scotia is the most lenient partner, therefore everyone has de facto the same policy as Nova Scotia, whether they like it or not.- Raywat Deonandan, epidemiologist

"If there isn't consistency, what are you doing?"

Deonandan draws a comparison to social bubbles.

"You're only as good as the people you trust." he said.

"The [Atlantic] bubble is only as good as its most lenient partner. So it sounds that Nova Scotia is the most lenient partner, therefore, everyone has de facto the same policy as Nova Scotia, whether they like it or not."

Deonandan points out there's "nothing magical" about the 14-day isolation requirement either. It's a median only, based on the estimated incubation period of the coronavirus.

"It's possible that you can pass the 14-day quarantine and still be positive."

Having said that, Deonandan thinks the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks within the Atlantic bubble from Canadian travellers who have self-isolated for 14 days is "low."

If outbreaks do occur, he believes they'll be driven by people who have travelled internationally, which has been the recent experience in some other jurisdictions.

Isolation won't be required

When New Brunswick does open up to the rest of the country, Higgs said the 14-day isolation period will no longer be required.

"I'll be … having calls with my Atlantic colleagues about the next step, but at this point we don't have any date in mind for reopening with the rest of Canada," he said Aug. 5.

He wants to evaluate the second week of expanding the New Brunswick bubble to residents of two Quebec border regions without the need to self-isolate, he said.

Residents of Avignon Regional County Municipality, which borders Restigouche County and includes Listuguj First Nation and Pointe-à-la-Croix, and of Témiscouata Regional County Municipality, which borders Madawaska County have been able to cross into the province for day-trips only since Aug. 1.

Right now, New Brunswick limits who is allowed to enter the province. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

Other approved reasons for entry include:

  • travelling through New Brunswick to reach another destination.
  • returning home to New Brunswick.
  • work-related travel.
  • child custody arrangements in New Brunswick.
  • moving to New Brunswick to take up residence.
  • travel related to medical appointment.
  • resident of the Atlantic provinces 
  • visiting immediate family in New Brunswick.
  • property ownership in New Brunswick.
  • travelling to pick up/drop off student.
  • attending a funeral.
  • compassionate exemption.

Once someone has completed a 14-day isolation in one of the Atlantic provinces, however, they are welcome to enter New Brunswick, confirmed Department of Public Safety spokesperson Geoffrey Downey.

New Brunswick has six active cases of COVID-19, all temporary foreign workers in Moncton who immediately went into self-isolation upon arrival.

The province has recorded 176 cases of the respiratory disease since the pandemic began in mid-March. Two people have died and 168 have recovered.

New Brunswick has six active cases of COVID-19, and the province has had a total of 176 cases since the pandemic started in March. (CBC)

Higgs has said the resurgence of the virus some jurisdictions have seen is "very concerning," and any expansion must be done with caution with the start of the school year around the corner.

"We want to be able to continue to get kids back to school and not be in a situation that we've seen a resurgence of the virus in advance of that, or certainly during," he told reporters on July 30, during the Quebec bubble announcement.

"So I would say, you know, we go through this 14 days, we'll look at other provinces and see where they're going, are they trending up, trending down. And then we look again at the prospects of how we can open."

Higgs said he doesn't want to see a resurgence of the virus as school starts. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Nova Scotia is looking into possible ways opening up could work, but is "not there yet," Premier Stephen McNeil has said.

No decision has been made by P.E.I. either.

Last week, the Island began allowing recreational visits by family members of residents who are Canadian citizens or have permanent residency status, but who live outside Atlantic Canada, provided they self-isolate for 14 days.

In June, P.E.I. opened its borders to family members of Islanders in need of support, such as those living in long-term care, as well as to seasonal residents.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador and its Public Health officials are in regular discussions with federal, provincial and territorial partners on pan-Canadian strategies related to COVID-19, including border measures, according to a Department of Health and Community Services spokesperson.

"No decision has been made relating to any further lifting of the current travel ban," she said in an emailed statement.

"Newfoundland and Labrador's borders are closely monitored and protocols for entry are strictly enforced as they relate to the Atlantic Canada Bubble. One of these protocols is the requirement for persons travelling to provide proof of residency in Atlantic Canada."

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