Nfld. & Labrador

Vaccinated visitors to the front of the line for July 1 target in N.L. reopening plan

In less than two weeks, Newfoundland and Labrador will begin lifting its long-term COVID-19 restrictions toward reopening to the rest of the country on Canada Day.

N.L. to begin lifting long-term public health restrictions in less than 2 weeks

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says the reopening plan is 'the strongest signal yet that the worst may be behind us.' (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

In less than two weeks, Newfoundland and Labrador will begin lifting its long-term COVID-19 restrictions toward reopening to the rest of the country on Canada Day, the provincial government announced Wednesday.

In the government's newly released plan, entitled "Together. Again," recreational travel from within Canada will be allowed "as early as July 1" as long as COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations remain low, and "about" 75 per cent of residents age 12 and up have received at least one dose of vaccine.

"This is the day many people have been waiting for. The reopening plan is a major milestone on the path to living with COVID-19. After a long 15 months, this is the strongest signal yet that the worst may be behind us," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald on Wednesday afternoon.

Premier Andrew Furey said the plan will allow long-awaited reunions for family members.

"Grandparents can now come home and meet the newest additions to their families," he said. "Loved ones can finally get together and grieve anyone they have lost since the pandemic."

 

The premier also noted the plan is not set in stone but will be adjusted based on case counts.

"This all relies heavily on people getting vaccinated, here at home and those coming to our province," said Furey. "If there are any concerns or any potential problems with variants or clusters popping up, we will absolutely consider changes."

The plan comes on a day that the province also reported 17 new cases of COVID-19. With 17 additional recoveries, N.L.'s caseload remains steady at 90.

Watch the full June 2 update:

As the province prepares to roll out its welcome mat, preference will be given to travellers who are fully vaccinated, says the plan, which will also require people to continue wearing masks in indoor public spaces until at least Sept. 15, when it will be reviewed.

Health Minister John Haggie said vaccines are the difference between planning to reopen now, with COVID-19 cases near triple digits, and last summer, when the province's active caseload never rose higher than four from June through September.

"That's the game-changer from this time last year, when we were in a reopening situation," he said. "That is the real difference, with 62 per cent of our population already having had one shot."

The plan lays out the following timeline:

June 15-July 1: Transition

Starting June 15:

  • Formal gatherings of up to 150 people will be permitted, with physical distancing. 
  • Personal gatherings of up to 30 people allowed outdoors, with physical distancing. Indoor personal gatherings are limited to a household and its "steady 20" close contacts.
  • Fireworks, parades and other outdoor ceremonies will be allowed, as well as outdoor tournaments.
  • Gradual return to offices and workplaces.

As early as July 1

With a target date of Canada Day:

  • Non-essential travel within Canada will be allowed. Fully vaccinated Canadian travellers will have no testing or isolation requirements. Partially vaccinated travellers must present a pre-departure negative COVID-19 test result or self-isolate upon arrival until they receive a negative test result. Unvaccinated Canadian travellers must self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Fully and partially vaccinated rotational workers returning from a site where there has an outbreak may end their isolation upon receiving a negative test result.
  • Outdoor formal gatherings may include 250 people, with distancing. Indoor formal gatherings limited to 200 people or 75 per cent capacity, whichever is less.
  • Up to 25 people permitted for funeral home visitation.
  • Outdoor personal gatherings may include 50 people with distancing. Indoor personal gatherings remain limited to household and steady 20.
  • No capacity restrictions on retail stores as long as physical distancing can be maintained. Restaurants and lounges can open at 75 per cent capacity, with distancing. Self-serve buffets prohibited.

As early as Aug. 15

If low case counts and hospitalizations continue, 80 per cent of residents 12 and up have at least one dose of vaccine, and 50 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated:

  • Fully and partially vaccinated rotational workers returning from an outbreak site will be tested upon arrival and aren't required to self-isolate.
  • Formal outdoor and indoor gathering limits increase to 500 and 350, respectively, with distancing. Funeral home visitation increased to 50.
  • No limits on personal gatherings as long as physical distancing can be maintained.
  • No capacity limits on restaurants and lounges, but self-serve buffets still prohibited. Dance floors are permitted.
  • Indoor and outdoor sports tournaments allowed with proper COVID-19 protocols.

As early as Sept. 15

With 80 per cent of N.L. residents vaccinated:

  • Unvaccinated Canadian travellers will self-isolate until receiving a negative test result.
  • No limit on formal outdoor gatherings, as long as distancing may be maintained. Indoor formal gatherings, including funeral home visits, will depend on epidemiological evidence at the time.
  • Workplaces back to normal.
  • Mask-wearing to be reviewed.

Fitzgerald said travellers will be required to fill out a COVID-19 declaration, and the provincial government is working out a way to allow people to upload proof of vaccination.

Alert Level 1?

She also said reopening the provincial boundary doesn't necessarily mean the province will be under Alert Level 1, which she joked is "getting to be the bane of [her] existence," of the province's tiered public health restrictions.

"Alert Level 1 really is going to be looking at when travel is more free, when much bigger events are freer, and life is almost back to normal but, you know, the rest of the world may not be quite there yet," she said.

"We know that there are still lots of countries who've got a lot of vaccinating to do, who are nowhere close to where we are with our vaccination rates, and so we need to make sure that the whole world is safe, because if one of us is not safe, then none of us are safe."

Fitzgerald suggested a target of 80 per cent of people being fully vaccinated in the province before Alert Level 1 is considered.

De facto Atlantic bubble

While a co-ordinated restart to the Atlantic bubble has been delayed twice this spring due to COVID-19 outbreaks, the three Maritime provinces released reopening plans over the last week, with different goals, also dependent on epidemiology and vaccination rates.

New Brunswick plans to open its borders to Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and parts of Quebec on Monday, depending on hitting vaccination targets and its COVID-19 caseload. On July 1 it plans to include Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada, if those travellers have one dose of a vaccine.

P.E.I. is looking to open its borders on June 27 to other Atlantic provinces, and to the rest of Canada on Aug. 8, with no quarantines required for fully vaccinated travellers. 

Travel restrictions have been in place in Newfoundland and Labrador since May 2020. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Nova Scotia on Friday released a three-stage reopening plan, with the primary focus on reopening things like retail businesses. The third and last phase will allow travel from other provinces.

Furey said there's no consensus among the Atlantic provinces on what a new regional bubble would look like, but said the reopening plans from each jurisdiction essentially amount to one.

"You could argue that there is a bubble, that the greater bubble is the Canadian bubble, and that's where we're all kind of geared towards right now," he said, but noted there are still discussions happening among the Atlantic provinces.

On Tuesday, the province adjusted the sizes of the regions under tighter health restrictions due to COVID-19 clusters. A chunk of central Newfoundland along the northeast coast eased restrictions from Alert Level 4 to Level 3, while other areas along the Trans-Canada Highway from Gambo to Badger moved to Level 2. In western Newfoundland, the Alert Level 4 area was expanded in the Bay St. George area to include communities along Route 403, including Flat Bay, St. Theresa's and Journois. 

Newfoundland and Labrador first imposed travel restrictions on May 4, 2020, requiring non-residents to have exemptions to enter. The restrictions have been loosened on occasion to allow freer movement within the Atlantic provinces, but have always been maintained for the rest of Canada.

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