Nova Scotia

N.B. is lifting all COVID restrictions this week. What does it mean for N.S.?

As New Brunswick prepares to drop all of its COVID-19 restrictions, an epidemiologist in Halifax says there are still unanswered questions about how the Atlantic provinces will respond if there’s another outbreak. 

Epidemiologist Kevin Wilson says provinces need 'post-vaccine' plans

In Nova Scotia, people are still required to wear masks in most indoor spaces. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

As New Brunswick prepares to lift all of its COVID-19 restrictions, an epidemiologist in Halifax says there are still unanswered questions about how the Atlantic provinces will respond if there's another outbreak. 

"When things are going well, it's very easy to say, you know, no more masks, no more restrictions of any kind," Kevin Wilson told CBC Radio's Maritme Noon on Tuesday.

"But say we flash forward two or three months and there's 20 cases a day in Fredericton, what does that look like?" 

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has said he'll lift the emergency order on Friday night, regardless of whether his province meets its target to have 75 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated.

That means no more limits on gathering sizes and no more mandatory masks. New Brunswick is following P.E.I., which dropped its mandatory mask rule for most people earlier this month.

"In the current conditions, that's justifiable because there's no circulating virus, but I think a lot of the impetus to roll back the restrictions is just that people don't like them," said Wilson, who tracks COVID-19 cases and vaccinations in each province.

In Nova Scotia, people are still required to don a mask in most indoor spaces. 

Provinces need a 'post-vaccine' plan

Wilson said right now the risk of becoming infected by COVID-19 in any of the Atlantic provinces is very low, thanks to high vaccination rates.

Still, he's cautious about the future, given surges in places like the U.K. where the majority of people are fully vaccinated.

"You can still have surges of cases and it can still burden the health system, but to a much lesser degree," he said.

Over the past 18 months, Nova Scotia has become very good at dealing with the virus in a "pre-vaccine world," Wilson said. Preventive measures such as masks and self-isolation requirements, as well as lots of testing, have allowed public health officials to track down cases and limit spread.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending mask-wearing indoors again for fully vaccinated people due to spread of the delta variant. (CBC / Radio-Canada)

But Wilson said the Atlantic provinces need a game plan now that the majority of people are at least partially immunized against the virus. 

As of Tuesday, just over 75 per cent of Nova Scotians have had one dose of a vaccine, and 58 per cent have had a second dose.

"It becomes a lot more complicated for the provinces to issue advice because the risk has gone from a very global risk that applies to everyone to the remaining X per cent of the population in each province that remains unvaccinated," he said.

In Maine, which did away with its mask requirement, there are signs that even fully vaccinated people may need to wear masks once again as cases rise in that state.

Wilson expects even if Nova Scotia ditches its mandatory mask rule like New Brunswick and P.E.I., individuals will still rely on masks to help keep themselves safe. 

"Say we're in November ... and Halifax is in the middle of an outbreak and everything is still open, I might actually switch back to wearing a mask and encourage ... friends and family and anyone I can get my voice to that they might still do that," he said.

With files from CBC Radio's Maritime Noon