Atlantic provinces agree to regional COVID-19 pandemic bubble
Bubble will begin July 3; visitors from outside the region must adhere to local entry requirements
The four Atlantic provinces have agreed to open their borders to each other on July 3, the Council of Atlantic Premiers announced Wednesday in a news release.
The agreement means travellers within the Atlantic provinces will not be required to self-isolate after crossing the borders. However, public health and proof of residency screening — showing a driver's licence or health card — will be maintained at points entry to all Atlantic provinces.
Visitors from other Canadian provinces and territories must adhere to the local entry requirements in place in each of the four jurisdictions. Other Canadian visitors to the three Maritime provinces who have self-isolated for 14 days may travel within the Maritime region, but not to Newfoundland and Labrador, said P.E.I. Premier Dennis King.
New Brunswick is the only Atlantic province with active cases. It has 20, including one case announced Tuesday, which is travel related. Of New Brunswick's 165 total confirmed cases, two people have died.
New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health said she feels comfortable with the reopening of the borders between the four Atlantic provinces — and that New Brunswickers should too.
"We are confident we can move freely without self-isolation," Dr. Jennifer Russell during Wednesday's news briefing.
She said it's important for Atlantic Canadians to travel between these provinces, especially since they've been cooped up since the virus hit in March.
"Some find it very anxiety provoking and some people find it very encouraging," she said.
When asked what happens if an outbreak were to occur in one of the four provinces, Russell said the chief medical officers are still working out the details.
Residents from elsewhere in Canada who enter New Brunswick to visit family members or stay at homes they own must still self-isolate for 14 days.
No cases on P.E.I.since April 28
Prince Edward Island has had only 27 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and none since April 28. There have been no deaths or hospitalizations.
Atlantic visitors to P.E.I. will be required to complete a self-declaration form online and provide a copy of the completed form at points of entry to the province. The form will be available before July 2, the province said.
Islanders returning from travel outside of Atlantic Canada will still need to self-isolate for 14 days before being able to travel within the province or region.
The province began to allow seasonal residents into the province this month despite some opposition from the public. Seasonal residents travelling from outside Atlantic Canada will still need to apply for pre-approved travel to P.E.I. and have a 14-day self-isolation plan.
Once they have completed 14 days of self-isolation, documentation confirming the self-isolation period was completed will be provided, as requested, before they can participate in the travel bubble.
Nova Scotia has had 1,061 positive cases, including 63 deaths. Its last confirmed case was June 9.
Premier Stephen McNeil said he feels confident opening the borders because the Atlantic provinces have almost completely flattened the curve of COVID-19 cases.
Now is the time, considering the number of new cases I've seen in the provinces, which have been very few, and the regions, which have been very few, that now's the time to open it up.— Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil
"Now is the time, considering the number of new cases I've seen in the provinces, which have been very few, and the regions, which have been very few, that now's the time to open it up," McNeil said at a news briefing Wednesday.
The premier said he still expects Nova Scotians and people entering the province to continue to follow proper health protocols.
McNeil said if there is an outbreak caused by the Atlantic bubble, the provinces are prepared to take necessary precautions.
"If we see alarming trends and spikes with our public health, we will then make decisions to either isolate that particular outbreak within our respective provinces or quite frankly, to isolate a province from the activity of moving about."
He said he is still considering opening Nova Scotia up to the rest of Canada by late July, depending on how the Atlantic bubble goes and the number of COVID-19 cases in other provinces.
Newfoundland and Labrador has had 261 cases. Three people have died. Its last confirmed case was May 28 and there hasn't been an active case since June 18.
Surprise from Newfoundland
The bubble is a surprise move from Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, who said on June 11 that the province wasn't ready to strike an agreement with its Atlantic counterparts.
Three days ago, Ball said there was still work to be done. On Wednesday, he said the plans came together after a meeting the night before.
When asked by the St. John's Telegram if his hesitation was because Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, was opposed to the plan, both Ball and Fitzgerald said no.
"This whole idea of being forced into an Atlantic bubble is just not the case," Ball said, noting public health officials helped shape the plan to merge borders.
"Keeping people safe, keeping Newfoundlanders and Labradorians safe, has always been the top priority."
In her news briefing Tuesday, Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s chief public health officer, said the risks of COVID-19 remain even as restrictions are lifted.
"It's more important than ever that we don't forget to be careful," she said.
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With files from Stephanie Kinsella, Cassidy Chisholm and Elizabeth Fraser