The Current

Much of Canada is fighting a COVID-19 third wave, but Nova Scotia is cautiously lifting restrictions

Halifax pub owner Joe McGuinness is loooking forward to welcoming patrons to his business this weekend, but Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang says risks remain as vaccine rollout continues.

Nova Scotia's Chief Medical Officer of Health warns it's not yet time to relax, as vaccine rollout continues

Argyle St. in downtown Halifax last year. Pandemic restrictions are lifting in parts of Atlantic Canada, as the region cautiously returns to some version of normal life.  (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

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While much of Canada is in a pandemic shutdown, Joe McGuinness is getting ready for a busy Friday night with lots of patrons at his Halifax pub this weekend.

"Downtown Halifax, you know, once the sun comes out, everybody wants to hit the patio," McGuinness, co-owner of Durty Nelly's Irish Pub, told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"And as the evening goes on, hopefully the weather will cooperate, and we have entertainment playing in the afternoon and then in the evening time through till 11 p.m."

That scene of relaxation and revelry might seem very far away in some parts of Canada, where a third wave of COVID-19 has prompted provinces to issue new restrictions.

Ontario issued a third province-wide state of emergency this week, including a stay-at-home order. Last week, B.C. implemented three-week "circuit breaker" measures, while restrictions have also been tightened in Quebec and Saskatchewan.

A look back at a year of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia

CBC News Nova Scotia

2 months ago
Colleen Jones revisits families she met when the global pandemic was just beginning, and former premier Stephen McNeil reflects on his famous phrase. 5:11

But restrictions are lifting in parts of Atlantic Canada, as the region cautiously returns to some version of normal life. 

Gyms and retail stores are open at full capacity in Nova Scotia, while the border to Newfoundland and Labrador has recently opened, allowing travel between the two provinces without the requirement to quarantine.

Border restrictions to P.E.I. and New Brunswick were previously relaxed, though there is a recommendation that Nova Scotians avoid non-essential travel to Edmundston and surrounding areas in N.B., due to an increase in COVID-19 cases there. Last month the Council of Atlantic Premiers announced plans to reestablish the Atlantic bubble by April 19, which allowed residents to travel freely within the four provinces last summer.

In Halifax, bars and pubs still have some safety measures in place, including a ban on dancing, but McGuinness said that hasn't been too much of an issue for his music-loving guests.

"People have adapted to dancing while sitting, moving their bodies and shaking while they're sitting down," he said.

"It's just another example of pivoting in this moment of COVID."

Joe McGuinness is looking forward to welcoming patrons to his bar, Durty Nelly's in Halifax, this weekend. (CBC)

Not time to relax yet: Strang

Nova Scotia's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang says the region has had certain advantages when it came to dealing with the pandemic — including geographical makeup.

"Even Halifax is, you know, a half a million people, so we don't have that large, very dense urban population where COVID really can spread," he told Galloway.

He said border measures have also been "critically important" to slowing the spread, as well as investment in strategies such as offering tests to people in bars.

"We do a lot of asymptomatic testing, which helps us really detect any virus very early on," he said.

Strang said he thinks it's helped that Nova Scotians have trusted their leaders during the pandemic, but he's mindful that restrictions to slow the virus come with their own impacts, including mental health issues around isolation.

"None of these are easy decisions to make ... knowing that everything we do has that negative impact, that weighs heavily," he said.

I wake up every day saying, 'OK, what's our case count?'- Dr. Robert Strang

Ultimately, he said public co-operation has helped the province get to a point where restrictions can start to lift.

"The mantra has been that we need to keep each other safe and work together and people have seen that that actually works," he said.

But rising case numbers in other parts of Canada make Strang "extremely nervous."

"I wake up every day saying, 'OK, what's our case count?'" he said, adding that he wants Nova Scotians to know it's not yet time to fully relax.

"Everything that's kept us safe for the year-plus now, we have to stick with that while we are ramping up our vaccine and getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible," he said.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, says factors like geography and testing strategies have helped the province reach a point where some restrictions can be lifted. (Communications Nova Scotia)

The province is on course to have every adult Nova Scotian offered their first vaccine dose by the middle of June, he said. 

"If we can get through the next couple of months, I think then we're starting to be in a place where we have enough population immunity from the vaccine to start to think about what the future could be," he said.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Mary-Catherine McIntosh, Celeste Decaire and Kate Cornick.

Hear full episodes of The Current on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.


  • A previous version of this story stated that Nova Scotia's border and quarantine measures to P.E.I. and New Brunswick remain in place. In fact, those restrictions were previously relaxed, but there is an advisory to avoid non-essential travel to a region of N.B., due to an increase in COVID-19 cases there.
    Apr 08, 2021 5:14 PM ET

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