Travel restrictions end in Atlantic Canada, bringing Christmas in July for separated families
New Brunswickers can now enter Nova Scotia without isolating like other Atlantic Canadians
It's official. Wednesday at 8 a.m. marks the end of COVID-19 travel restrictions in Atlantic Canada.
That's when New Brunswickers will be able to travel freely to Nova Scotia, joining people from the rest of Atlantic Canada who were welcomed back into the province last Wednesday.
Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin confirmed Tuesday that the province would enter Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which includes ending the requirement for New Brunswickers to self-isolate and complete the safe check-in form, as long as they haven't travelled outside the Atlantic region in the previous 14 days.
For Andrew Hamilton's family, it will mean Christmas in July.
Hamilton and his wife Kelli live in Point de Bute, N.B., an unincorporated community in Westmorland County just minutes from the Aulac border crossing to Nova Scotia. Their eldest daughter, 31, and youngest son, 23, live in Bedford and Dartmouth, N.S.
They haven't seen each other in person since last November because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"We still have Christmas presents here for them," he said.
They've booked Friday off to have an extended Canada Day long weekend together.
"A hug is going to be fantastic," said Hamilton. "You know, that contact, that communication that you just simply cannot get over a video screen, or a text, or a phone call. That in-person contact will be amazing."
The travel restrictions were expected to end last Wednesday, with each of the four provinces planning to lift quarantine requirements for most Atlantic Canadians.
But Rankin imposed last-minute isolation requirements on New Brunswickers, prompting a 24-hour Trans-Canada Highway blockade at the main border between the two provinces. Three people were arrested as a result.
Rankin announced on June 22 that all travellers from New Brunswick would have to continue to isolate upon arrival, even if they were fully vaccinated, while people from Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador would not need to quarantine.
He cited New Brunswick's decision to open its borders to all Canadians on June 16, with no isolation required for people who had at least one dose of vaccine, saying it posed too great a risk. He wanted more Nova Scotians to be fully vaccinated, giving greater protection against the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19, before lifting quarantine requirements for anyone entering from or through New Brunswick, he had said.
The next day, however, he announced New Brunswick residents who had their second dose of a vaccine at least 14 days prior could enter with no isolation or testing required.
On Tuesday, Rankin thanked people for their patience. "We now have an extra 100,000, roughly, doses into arms. We really needed that extra week," he said.
Hamilton said being "geared up and ready to see family again," last week only to have that taken away at the eleventh hour, was a "very hard pill to swallow."
The inconsistent rules between provinces has also been "mentally draining," he said.
Nova Scotia will maintain a presence at the land border, said Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health. But there will be a "fast-track stream" for New Brunswickers and other Atlantic Canadians, as well as truck drivers and other regular commuters.
"They won't be checked," said Strang.
People in the other stream, however, may be pulled over and asked to validate their travel approval and proof of vaccination, he said.
Travellers from New Brunswick, and Nova Scotians returning from travel in New Brunswick, who arrived in Nova Scotia before Wednesday and have been self-isolating, can now end their self-isolation.
"It doesn't make a lot of sense if somebody came from New Brunswick on Monday, has to do 14 days, versus somebody comes on Wednesday and doesn't have to do anything. So we're going to treat people fairly," said Strang.
"We know that both provinces, the epidemiology is very low. So we're really not taking on any substantive risk."
PEI Pass popular
Prince Edward Island opened on Sunday to New Brunswickers and other Atlantic Canadians who have at least one vaccine dose without any isolation requirement — if they have a PEI Pass and agree to a rapid test, which can take up to two hours.
Prior to Sunday, people had to apply for pre-approved travel.
Premier Dennis King suggested Tuesday the results from this week's border testing may mean that testing requirements for Atlantic Canadians at the provincial border could be eased soon, especially for fully vaccinated people.
He said the province is also looking at testing only two people in each carload of incoming visitors.
Each person must have their own PEI Pass. A parent or guardian must complete the application for children aged 12 to 17.
The form requires people to upload a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's licence, as well as proof of their vaccination status. However, people should black out unneeded private details before uploading images of their IDs, the province advises.
So far, the province has received more than 64,000 applications for its PEI Pass, and has processed 60 per cent of those.
Unvaccinated visitors are required to complete a declaration and isolate for eight days with tests on entry and on Day 8.
More information on P.E.I.'s travel rules is available here.
No vaccination record required for Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador opened up to New Brunswick visitors on June 23 with no isolation or testing requirements. No proof of vaccination is required either.
Visitors must, however, complete a travel form within three days of their expected travel date.
To gain entry, people must not have any COVID-19 symptoms, and not have been in close contact with anyone with COVID-19 or have left the region in the last 14 days.
More information on Newfoundland's travel rules can be found here.