As almost all COVID-19 restrictions end, N.L. enters new pandemic era
'We have to accept now that this is part of our lives,' says Nunatsiavut health minister
Newfoundland and Labrador marked the end of almost all COVID-19 restrictions on Monday — the second anniversary of the first coronavirus case recorded in the province — with public health mandates being erased for what officials hope is the final time.
Mask mandates, vaccine passes, and capacity and travel restrictions are gone, for the most part, although masking is still required in schools until at least the Easter break, in post-secondary institutions until the end of the semester and in health-care facilities provincewide.
Some businesses are also choosing to stick with masks and physical distancing for the time being.
Jennifer Ring, who manages Hotel North 2 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, told CBC News her hotel is happy to see restrictions lifted but said masking will be optional for their workers.
"Some of our employees are going to choose to wear their masks and some employees are very happy to get rid of their masks," she said. "I don't want anybody to feel uncomfortable for wearing a mask or not wearing a mask."
Ring said the last two years has been a struggle both financially and in trying to keep up with the constantly changing pandemic landscape. Restrictions changed almost monthly to slow the spread of COVID-19, making running a business challenging, she said.
In Newfoundland, Rocket Bakery locations in St. John's and Mount Pearl are keeping masks mandatory inside their shops.
Co-owner Dave Hopley said Monday the stores will also continue to limit customers, at least for now.
"We want to take care of our workers, and from what we've been hearing from our customers a lot of people seem to be liking the idea that they're we're kind of carrying on with the mask mandate," he said.
What changes if you get COVID? The short answer is nothing.<br><br>You'd still isolate for 7 days (if vaccinated) and follow this advice from the province: <a href="https://t.co/OePdm4LbmD">https://t.co/OePdm4LbmD</a>—@PeterCBC
Sandy Bennett, owner of EmpowHer Fitness, told CBC News she had a mixed group of customers Monday.
"What was weird was the ladies' reactions when they walked in. Some came in with their mask on, some came in holding their mask," she said.
"Some came in dancing through the door without a mask on."
Bennett said her gym still enforces physical distancing, with six-foot squares to keep people separated during classes. But with low foot traffic and the province's high vaccination rates, she said, she felt it was OK to drop the mask requirement.
Masks will continue to be mandatory at Wallnuts Climbing Centre in St. John's.
"Masking just seems like a no-brainer to us," said manager Joel Harvie.
Harvie said capacity restrictions and social distancing were more difficult for the business to navigate because the facility is relatively small. He said the financial impact of those capacity restrictions was "brutal."
"We're hoping that as we can kind of, maybe, resume business as usual, we'll get back some of that revenue," he said.
He said keeping masks mandatory will allow the facility to operate at full capacity while keeping staff and customers as safe as possible — though he said the facility will consider dropping the rule in the future.
"If you wear a mask, you can still go climbing," he said. "We think that most people are happy with how we've navigated this and we hope they are, and we hope we can continue to ease things so that everybody can relax a little bit."
Nunatsiavut following provincial lead
Gerald Asivak, Nunatsiavut's health and social development minister, says his government will be keeping in line with provincial public health standards.
He said the Nunatsiavut government is still strongly encouraging people to continue proper hand-washing, staying home when sick and wearing masks in crowded places.
"We're going to be living with COVID for some time to come. It's part of our new normal," he said.
"It's not necessarily what we want as our new normal. However, we have to accept now that this is part of our lives."
While the virus isn't going anywhere, said Asivak, some people are relieved by the lifting of restrictions.
"Some are waiting to resume some normalcy, to see family, to socialize a little more. The education over the two years has improved dramatically so we know what we can do to keep ourselves safe."
Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer hold COVID-19 briefings or send media releases with new infections. The province will update its COVID-19 website on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with new data.
'I'm just not going to do it'
But not everybody is celebrating the end of mandates.
Jenny Lyver, who has a brain tumour, is concerned about contracting the virus.
"I'm scared. I know lots of people say 'don't live in fear,' but these people are not living with what I have," said the Corner Brook woman.
"I don't go out very much. The things that I've been doing, the few times I've been out, I'll continue to do as far as the protocols."
Lyver said not many people are within her bubble, and she's been clear with her family that if they venture out then she's going to keep her distance from them for a while after.
"It is really hard. Socially it's hard on me, too," she said. "I'm not going to go out to a coffee shop. I'm just not going to do it. All of that is over for me, for now."
Registered psychologist Laura Casey-Foss says it's important to remember that while mandates are dropped, people can still follow previous public health advice.
She said it's OK for people who aren't ready or physically capable of returning to a less secure life to take the extra time, and explanations aren't owed to anybody else.
"Slow and steady is kind of the thought there. It's OK to take those precautions," she said.
"Just remember it took time to get here and it's going to take time to recover as well."
In St. John's, Metrobus has dropped its mask requirement as well. Waiting to catch a ride at Memorial University on Monday morning, international student Nil Patel said he will continue to wear his mask to protect himself and others.
"We don't know how COVID is going to react in the future and right now it's better to wear a mask," he said.
Anesu Mbanje, who was also waiting for the bus, also said he'll likely continue to wear his.
"It's just to stay safe," he said.
Mohammed Milad was happy to no longer have to wear his mask on the bus, but added the last year has been tough on his family with relatives dying because of the virus. He said most people on the bus Monday were still wearing their masks.
"I would love to get back my normal life without wearing masks and that stuff," he said.
With files from Meg Roberts, Patrick Butler, Peter Cowan and Newfoundland Morning