Nova Scotia

Cape Breton leaders call for end of non-essential travel to island

A letter was sent to Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang requesting additional measures be taken to combat the spread of COVID-19.

'We can't be afraid to do the right thing just out of fear of stepping on the wrong toes'

Cape Breton has to do the right thing for itself, says Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley of the We’koqma’q First Nation. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

A group of community leaders in Cape Breton wants non-essential travel stopped to the island as new cases of COVID-19 continue to be reported daily on the mainland.

The request was sent to Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, by a group of municipal leaders and First Nation chiefs. 

The group, which met recently to discuss a possible Cape Breton bubble, is also seeking checkpoints and rapid testing for COVID-19.

"We can't be afraid to do the right thing just out of fear of stepping on the wrong toes," said We'koqma'q Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley, who signed the letter as an organizer of the meeting. 

There were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the island as of Tuesday when the province reported 10 new cases, all in the central health zone.

Risk factors to be considered

Bernard-Daisley said various health factors, such as higher rates of cancer and diabetes, put Cape Bretoners at risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

She said housing shortages in First Nation communities makes the situation more dangerous. 

"There are some homes with multiple families residing in one," Bernard-Daisley said. "Some have over 20 family members in a home. In these situations, how can we effectively fight COVID?"

A group of Cape Breton's municipal leaders and chiefs is calling on the provincial government to enforce stricter travel restrictions for provincial visitors arriving on the island. (Robert Short/CBC)

With students and families expected to head to Cape Breton over the holidays, Bernard-Daisley said the time to act is now.

She would like to see anyone visiting the island from areas in the province experiencing COVID-19 activity to self-isolate for at least 14 days. 

'It hits close to home' 

Concerns over the spread of COVID-19 were heightened after a Sydney restaurant was identified as a possible exposure site. 

Ardon Mofford, the owner of Governor's Pub and Eatery, said his staff have since tested negative.

Mofford said the province should screen visitors to the island, as businesses are already carrying a heavy load. 

"We're trying to deal with a crazy business environment," he said.

"It hits close to home when you get a potential situation like we did down here at Governor's. And then obviously what endured was incredible, what happens on social media and how your phone lights up. And you can see how the community gets scared and it's understandably so."

Provincial strategy

The Department of Health has said it's focusing testing efforts on asymptomatic people in locations with the most concerning spread. 

A provincial spokesperson said the public will be informed as the province's strategy evolves. 

Health officials continue to ask Nova Scotians to limit travel in and out of places with COVID-19 activity, such as the Halifax Regional Municipality and parts of Hants County.