Dancing at bars gets green light as P.E.I. lifts more COVID restrictions on St. Patrick's Day

P.E.I. entered into step 2 of its COVID transition plan Thursday, increasing the size of allowed gatherings among other measures, and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison says the impact on the health-care system will be key to further changes.

Hospitalization rates will be key to easing further pandemic restrictions, says Morrison

People on P.E.I. will be able to bust a move on the dance floor Thursday — as long as they wear a mask. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Dancing at bars is now permitted on P.E.I. as more COVID-19 restrictions are loosened — including increases in gathering limits — just in time for St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

P.E.I. entered into Step 2 of its COVID transition plan Thursday. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison says while positivity rates at the province's testing centres are rising, the impact on the health-care system will be key to further changes.

"It would have to be a significant impact on our health-care system, which we have been always trying to protect. We need our health-care system there not just for COVID but for everything," Morrison told Island Morning Thursday.

"The next week or two will be very interesting as we monitor the hospitalizations after a real peak in cases."

The changes that came into effect Thursday allow for up to 75 per cent capacity at bars and restaurants and no restrictions on table sizes.

And dance floors with "small social groups" are permitted.

Masks must still be worn except when eating and drinking.

A high rate of vaccination in the province has helped keep P.E.I.'s hospitalization rate at one of the lowest in the country, says Dr. Heather Morrison. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

The number of people permitted to dance at wedding receptions and other organized gatherings increases from 50 to 100.

The number of people permitted at indoor personal gatherings remains at 20, but outdoor personal gatherings can now have up to 50 people.

Fitness facilities, retail stores, casinos, museums and libraries can also operate at 75 per cent capacity, up from 50 per cent during Step 1.

Organized sport and recreation activities, including arts performances and card games, can have a maximum of 100 participants interacting over the course of a day. Previously, only 50 were allowed.

Travellers will continue to be tested at the Confederation Bridge and other points of entry. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Travellers entering P.E.I. will continue to be tested but will transition to random testing.

Also taking effect today — vaccinate-or-test policies for front-line workers are also no longer required.

The policies, implemented last October, applied to workers in schools, daycares, jails, and long-term and community care facilities. Employers had to regularly test any staff members who were not vaccinated with two doses. 

There was no response when CBC asked for more information on the public health orders.

The loosening of restrictions comes three days after neighbouring New Brunswick dropped all of its COVID restrictions.

Newfoundland and Labrador dropped most of its COVID restrictions this week, as well, though masks are still required in schools and health-care facilities.

Nova Scotia's restrictions remain similar to those on P.E.I.

Next step scheduled for April 7

The next step in P.E.I.'s transition plan is scheduled for April 7, when masking, gathering limits and other restrictions are expected to be removed.

The province still has work to do in making sure people get booster vaccinations, Morrison said.

A high rate of vaccination in the province, along with good access to new treatments, have helped keep the hospitalization rate the lowest in Atlantic Canada, and one of the lowest in the country, Morrison said.

As the province continues to ease restrictions, Morrison said people are going to have different comfort levels.

"It's part of us learning to live with it," she said.

"It's almost going to be harder to come out of this pandemic than it was to go in."

Recommendations still in place

Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease expert and a researcher with the department of medicine at Dalhousie University, said with public health restrictions easing throughout the Maritimes, the onus is on individuals to keep protecting themselves from COVID-19.

She noted that health officials still recommend people wear masks inside public spaces, limit contact with others, stay home when sick and take a COVID test before visiting vulnerable people.

"We're in the middle of a respiratory virus season, so if we want to keep a minimum amount of people in hospital and sick with this virus, then we're going to struggle with that if we take away what is recommended."

With files from Island Morning