COVID-19 outbreaks in New Brunswick have some Nova Scotians changing plans
The province is the only one in the Atlantic bubble that has not issued N.B. travel rules
With COVID-19 cases surging in parts of New Brunswick, some people in Nova Scotia have been changing their Thanksgiving weekend plans, hoping to reduce their own risk of exposure to the virus and protect the relative safety of the Atlantic bubble.
Public health guidelines in Nova Scotia have not changed in response to the New Brunswick outbreaks, but Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said Friday that he was monitoring the situation closely.
Kevin Wilson said he doesn't want to wait to see if Strang's advice will change.
Wilson, who lives in Halifax, travelled to Moncton on Friday before New Brunswick health officials asked non-essential visitors to stay away from that region.
Visit cut short
He had planned to stay until Wednesday, but said that as the scale of Moncton's outbreak became more apparent, he decided to cut his family visit short.
As of Sunday afternoon, New Brunswick was reporting 71 active cases of the virus — the vast majority of those split between outbreaks in Moncton and Campbellton.
"I really do want to get back to Halifax before anything radical happens," said Wilson. "Say … they start requiring isolation [for] travellers from New Brunswick."
Nova Scotia's government is the only one inside the Atlantic bubble that has not yet issued special guidelines for travellers from New Brunswick's two viral hot zones.
Officials in New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland & Labrador are all discouraging travel to and from Moncton and Campbellton.
If people were already in those areas before the advice went out, or have to make an essential visit, officials from those three provinces say travellers should avoid public spaces and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days upon their return.
The guidelines verge on the 14-day isolation requirement imposed on travellers entering the Atlantic bubble from other parts of Canada and internationally, but for all intents and purposes, the bubble remains intact.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said the New Brunswick outbreaks are "concerning."
"But in the same breath, I still think that it's incredible how successful the Atlantic bubble has been."
"And because of the … vigilance and the care that those in the Atlantic bubble have taken, I'm pretty confident that they'll get it under control quickly and that they'll still be able to maintain this Atlantic bubble as a near COVID-free zone."
Unfortunately for Wilson, that vigilance and care is making it difficult for him to get home. He took the bus from Halifax to Moncton, as he usually does, but he doesn't want to take it back.
He said he's trying to arrange for family to drive him part of the way to Truro and find another ride for the rest of the journey.
"To be honest, a lot of people in Halifax are pretty nervous about interacting with somebody who's been in New Brunswick recently," he said.
Amherst Mayor David Kogon said those nerves exist in his community, too. Amherst is less than 10 kilometres from the border with New Brunswick, and about 70 kilometres from Moncton.
"People have concerns because Moncton is so close and interactive with our community," Kogon said Sunday.
"People shop in Moncton, and I'm hearing some people are saying, 'Yeah, well I'm not going to be running to the Moncton area any time in the near future,' because you don't know just whether there'll be any community spread or how it will go."
He said that for some, that caution is beginning this Thanksgiving weekend.
"I know that people who are here and have family in Moncton, they're saying, 'You know what, we're not going to get together.'"
Border checks still in place on N.S. side
Just last week, Kogon was celebrating the removal of checkpoints on the New Brunswick side of the interprovincial border. Since the Atlantic bubble opened in the summer, Kogon said long waits had become a major headache and business constraint for people in Amherst.
Nova Scotia did not remove its checkpoints along with its neighbour, and Kogon said he's now glad of that.
"I think it would have been irresponsible to take them away, given what's going on in Moncton. But I'm hoping that ... once there's satisfaction that everything's settled down in Moncton that the Nova Scotia government will move toward getting rid of the checks."
With files from CBC News Network