Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia introduces new restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise to 7

There are now seven cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia. Six cases are presumed positive and one case has been confirmed positive by the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Hospitals to ramp down non-urgent services, bars to close, gatherings limited to 50 people

A nurse holds a coronavirus testing kit at a Wolverhampton, England, testing site. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Nova Scotians will see dramatic changes in just about all ways of life in the coming days as officials prepare for the potential spread of COVID-19.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre are suspending non-urgent and elective services, public gatherings will be limited to 50 people and all bars have been ordered to close.

There are now seven cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia. Six cases are presumed positive and one case has been confirmed positive by the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. As of Tuesday, Nova Scotia has done 934 other tests that came back negative.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer, said the two new presumptive cases are travel-related and connected to earlier cases.

"Public health is continuing to do their work on following up on previous cases and on these new cases," Strang told a news conference Tuesday.

He said that follow-up work is extensive, and close contacts of those presumptive cases have been contacted. The people who have COVID-19 are in self-isolation and are recovering at home and their close contacts have also been told to self-isolate.

"Public health is in control of our cases and of our contacts," said Strang, who discouraged people from actively trying to seek out people who aren't following the rules.

Strang said they're minimizing the amount of information they provide about cases in the interest of privacy, while also ensuring people in the public have the information they need.

None of the follow-up work has suggested that any of the cases are the result of "general community spread," said Strang.

Changes to health-care services

The update comes on the same day the Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre said they'd be suspending all non-urgent services as part of planned pandemic response.

The changes include limiting surgical procedures to urgent and emergency cases only. Emergency departments will remain open, as will the IWK's emergency mental health and addiction services. The health authority said its dialysis, chemotherapy and radiation treatments would continue, as would mental health and addictions appointments.

Dr. Brendan Carr, CEO of the health authority, said plans are in place for all regions to establish secondary assessment sites. The plan also includes keeping patients who need hospitalization in regional centres. As part of that preparation, patients in acute care beds who don't need to be there will be moved back out to the community before COVID-19 patients are in hospitals.

Carr said officials are ready for whatever might come.

"Our teams have been working flat-out for three months to get ready for this," he said.

'Think about what's happening'

Dr. Krista Jangaard, CEO of the IWK, said the decisions were difficult, but the right ones to make, given the circumstances. She asked for patience from the public as the changes take place.

"This is a place where we all need to work together," she said.

Jangaard said the changes would mean they could reassess how staff would be used within the system. Although children have been less affected by the virus so far, Jangaard said staff at the IWK are ready for whatever may come.

"This is our day-to-day business."

Premier Stephen McNeil stressed again the requirement for anyone who has been outside the country to self-isolate for 14 days when they get home, even if they don't have symptoms, and for everyone to regularly wash their hands.

"These are simple asks, when you think about what's happening around the world."

New protocol changes for businesses

McNeil said public gatherings would now be limited to 50 people or fewer. He said people should be home, unless it's to make necessary trips to grocery stores, especially as more people return to the province from out-of-country trips.

"My message to Nova Scotians is to be home with your loved ones," he said.

"Try to be out of the public as much as you can be."

Starting Thursday, restaurants will only be able to provide takeout or delivery services and all bars will be required to close.

The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation will begin operating on reduced services. It will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday for the general public. It will be open from 10-11 a.m. only for vulnerable populations, including senior citizens.

Access Nova Scotia and Registry of Motor Vehicle Offices are temporarily closing for one week starting Wednesday so they can establish services that minimize contact between people. Some services are available online and the government is extending March, April and May driver licence and vehicle registration expirations to Aug. 31.

On Sunday, the province announced the first three presumptive cases of the virus, which happened to three people who returned from different international trips to California, Europe and Australia. One of those cases has since been confirmed. On that same day, McNeil announced schools and daycares would close.

On Monday, two more presumptive cases were announced, a man and woman in their 50s who attended a number of gatherings with people who had travelled internationally.

All of the province's COVID-19 cases have been listed as mild, with the patients recovering at home in self-isolation.

The province is able to test about 200 people a day in the microbiology lab at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

The Government of Canada has listed guidance on its website for how to properly self-isolate or care for someone who is self-isolating.