'We need to buy more time': P.E.I. tightens border for at least next 4 weeks

Seasonal residents have been advised not to travel to P.E.I. until at least May 17, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said Monday, as Premier Dennis King said the province will have more details later in the day about how it might help regions of Canada harder hit by COVID-19.

Seasonal residents advised not to come until at least May 17

Dr. Heather Morrison and Premier Dennis King outlined tighter border controls for P.E.I. at an unscheduled briefing from Charlottetown on Monday. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Seasonal residents from outside Atlantic Canada will not be allowed to travel to P.E.I. until at least May 17, even if they had already been granted approval to enter the province, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said in a previously unscheduled news conference Monday.

Morrison made the announcement as she detailed stricter new border measures to limit the importation and spread of COVID-19, and confirmed three new cases of the illness on Prince Edward Island.

"We need to buy more time," she said.

For the next four weeks, she said, the province is pausing non-resident travel to the province from outside Atlantic Canada. 

Morrison also advised Island residents to avoid non-essential travel off P.E.I., and said the timeline for the reopening of the Atlantic bubble, scheduled for May 3, would be re-examined in the coming days.

More than 7,000 approved to date in 2021

Applications for permanent relocation to P.E.I. for work or school will continue to be processed, Morrison told reporters. However, people in that situation will need a negative pre-departure test within 72 hours of arrival, and will be tested three times during their two weeks of isolation.

People intending to move to P.E.I. without a job or post-secondary admission in place will have to wait for things to open up again.

Applications for travel to P.E.I. for compassionate reasons will continue to be processed and approved with the same restrictions in place, Morrison said. 

To give context, Morrison's office later told CBC News that 7,153 people had been approved for travel to P.E.I. so far in 2021. Of those, 115 will be notified by the end of this week that they must now defer their arrival until at least May 17.

Rotational workers and commercial truckers who are residents of P.E.I. but travel outside Atlantic Canada will now need to isolate until their first negative test even if they have been vaccinated.

Workers from other places who are coming to P.E.I. will need to show a negative COVID-19 result from no more than 72 hours before their arrival on the Island

The news comes after P.E.I. reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, and eight in the last week. At least four of the recent travel-related cases are the highly transmissible B117 variant, Morrison said. 

Details on off-Island help to come

Premier Dennis King was also at the briefing, and addressed the request from Ontario to help with human resources. He said the province will do whatever it can to help, being mindful that P.E.I. does not have an abundance of resources to offer.

The premier said would be very easy "to revert to a protectionist instinct… or an us-versus-them mentality," but instead urged citizens of the province to "revert to the instincts of kindness and generosity."

Two patients with COVID-19 are now being cared for at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

He added: "I know Canadians from other provinces would help if it was Prince Edward Island asking."

He promised more details later in the day on health care help that could be available, noting that some P.E.I. health care workers have expressed interest in travelling to Ontario to assist.

P.E.I. has now had 173 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Thirteen remain active. There have been no deaths.

The first hospitalization due to the illness was confirmed on Friday, in a person aged between 40 and 49 with a recent history of travel outside Atlantic Canada. 

On Sunday, a news release announced three more cases, including a young child who needed hospital treatment. As well, the release said the person hospitalized earlier was now in intensive care.

Morrison cited privacy rules as she declined to give an update on the two patients' condition on Monday.

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