What you need to know about P.E.I.'s first set of ease-back measures
Personal gathering limits and travel restrictions change, masking requirements don’t
Thursday marks what the province is calling Step 1 in P.E.I.'s plan to dial back public health measures and — as it has said before — learn to live with COVID-19.
"This is not a declaration that COVID is over, or that COVID will disappear, or that we are standing here and saying mission accomplished," said Premier Dennis King in a briefing on Feb. 8. "COVID is with us, and will be with us."
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said this new plan comes with "hope and optimism."
"It's to share the planning for transitioning from pandemic to recovery, including measures for gatherings, business and travel," she said. "The plan is not about signalling victory or the end of COVID-19 but it's hopeful that we may be ready to move on."
Step 1 changes
In the first step of the plan, the biggest change is coming for people who travel to and from P.E.I.
Fully-vaccinated travellers will no longer have to make a plan for their first four days in the province. Now, fully-vaccinated travellers and children under 12 travelling with fully-vaccinated family members don't have to isolate, but do have to test upon arrival, and on days two and four with supplied antigen tests.
No luck for unvaccinated travellers though — the eight-day isolation period remains, along with testing.
There were no long lineups at the Confederation Bridge on Thursday, but officials expect that to change with the long weekend.
Maurice Gallant said he was taking a trip to the mainland to beat the weekend rush. It was his first trip off-Island since dropping his children off at university in the fall.
"I think it's great and long overdue," he said. "People are really tired with this whole situation … but I think it's really time to move on."
Extra staff at bridge
By 4 p.m. about 350 travellers had come to P.E.I. The peak wait time was about 15 minutes.
The province said there were more than 70 border screeners working throughout the day, and extra staff have been hired at the bridge to help keep traffic flowing.
Also among those taking advantage of the loosened restrictions was Jonathan Dudek, who knows first hand the benefits of a change of scenery.
"I'm actually a psychologist and work with the mobile mental-health team and have seen what the isolation can do to people and so I think this is a good first step to improving wellness across the board."
Gathering limits increased
Others restrictions were also eased Thursday. Personal gatherings of up to 20 people are now permitted. That's up from a household plus 10 people, indoors and outdoors.
Previously, organized gatherings — like worship services, concerts and spectators at sport events — could only include 50 people.
Now, venues can operate at 50 per cent capacity with as much physical distancing as possible. The P.E.I. Vax Pass requirement is still in effect for applicable events.
Wedding and funeral receptions are also permitted as of Thursday, for up to 50 people.
Teams can now play full games against one another. As of Thursday, organized sports can resume with a maximum of 50 participants, including games and interprovincial competitions. The same rules go for arts and culture performers, dance classes and other recreational activities. Fitness classes can operate at 50 per cent capacity and organizers need to make use of the space to allow for as much distancing as possible.
People in workplaces are to continue masking, promoting distancing and work from home where needed.
Restaurants must continue to operate at 50 per cent capacity, but can increase table sizes to seat up to 20 people.
There will be no more public health mandated closing time but diners still have to wear masks unless they are actively eating and drinking, and they must remain seated to eat and drink.
Restrictions and rules at long-term care facilities and at schools will ease "as the situation permits," according to the province.
The next set of changes are likely to come in mid-March. Morrison said the changes have a gap of three to four weeks between them, and will be adjusted as needed, with the final step expected around April 7.
"Going forward vaccines continue to be a cornerstone," she said. "As the virus evolves, so will immunity and vaccine recommendations."
With files from Brittany Spencer