N.L., P.E.I. premiers say Atlantic bubble was a beacon of hope, but preventative measures had to be taken
Bubble provided 'hope and then some normalcy at a time when it feels like anything but': King
For several months, residents of the Atlantic provinces were free to travel between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador without the need to quarantine.
But as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the Atlantic bubble has burst — both Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. are exiting the bubble for at least two weeks. Newfoundland's heightened travel restrictions will come into effect on Wednesday, while P.E.I.'s were in effect as of Monday.
"We're going to re-evaluate in two weeks and see where we are, see where the epidemiology is, and if it seems to be calmed down, then we'll keep going. We'll re-evaluate and look to get back into the overall bubble," Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey told The Current's Matt Galloway.
A source of Atlantic pride
The Atlantic bubble began on July 3, during a period when COVID-19 cases in all of the Atlantic provinces were low.
"I think the large majority of people, even though they might have been a little apprehensive at first, really thought the bubble was a unique and creative way to get some movement of people around the region, at a time when our region was incredibly safe as compared to the rest of the country or the world," P.E.I. Premier Dennis King told The Current.
Furey says the bubble was a source of pride for the region, which partly contributed to its success.
"I think the ability of the Atlantic provinces to work together as a region has been paramount in the past in economic opportunities, but employing our partnerships in this public health opportunity to protect the citizens of the Atlantic region was a source of pride, but also a great source of success for over four months," he said.
Along with being a "great economic generator," King adds that the bubble was a beacon of hope for many Atlantic residents.
"The Atlantic bubble provided some hope and then some normalcy at a time when it feels like anything but," he said.
'A feeling of inevitability'
But cases have started to rise in the Atlantic provinces, and while P.E.I.'s numbers remain low — their 69 total cases are currently the lowest among all provinces — King says he was concerned about the rising COVID-19 cases in Canada and around the world.
"I worry every day about COVID, not just from a P.E.I. perspective, but from a national perspective and a worldwide perspective," he said. "Even though we have two active cases here … until COVID is under control everywhere, it's out of control everywhere. And that's kind of the way we've been looking at it."
This is why, despite the numbers, King figured it was best for his province to pull out of the Atlantic bubble, even if temporarily.
"We have a limited capacity here if something were to happen from an outbreak perspective, so we have to try to do everything that we can to keep it outside of our shores and to contain it if it gets here," he said.
Furey, whose province's 321 total cases are the second-lowest among Canadian provinces, says that even though Newfoundland and Labrador has done a good job resisting the virus, there was a sense that cases were going to rise sooner or later.
"There's always a feeling of inevitability as we saw the cases rising across Canada in particular … and so we felt that the virus was pushing east, and so this is yet another preventative measure to see if we can hold off the virus until the vaccine is more readily available," he said.
... until COVID is under control everywhere, it's out of control everywhere. And that's kind of the way we've been looking at it.- Dennis King
King says that while Islanders have enjoyed the bubble, most agree that restrictions are necessary at this time.
"I think the overwhelming response so far has been, I'm glad that we have done this. I hope we don't have to do it for very long, but I'm glad we're trying to do this now as a proactive measure as opposed to trying to react in a couple of weeks' time if things were to go bad," he said.
But King hopes that in two weeks time, P.E.I. can welcome back visitors from their sister provinces.
"[The restrictions are] in the interest of health and safety of those who live here and those who would visit, but it's really, really difficult for us to be in a situation where we can't be welcoming," he said.
"We want to work with our sister provinces to make sure that we contain and beat back COVID one more time. And as we look forward to, you know, a vaccine coming in the first part of the year with great hope, I think we can see the finish line."
Furey says that residents of Newfoundland and Labrador want the same freedoms they had during the bubble — open schools and open businesses, among other things. That's why he believes they're prepared "to continue restricting some of the movements in order to maintain the level of freedoms that we enjoy now."
But Furey is not making any predictions about where the province will be in two weeks.
"The decision matrix is not straightforward. Obviously, we're looking at different variables, including raw, absolute numbers in different jurisdictions within the Atlantic region, but also the degree of community spread, which for me is most concerning, as that can quickly strap the system and exhaust the capacity that we have and others have," he said.
"So, those would be the two main variables that we would consider and apply different weights to in making this decision."
Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Idella Sturino, Paul MacInnis and Mary-Catherine McIntosh.