Nova Scotia just put its three-phase reopening plan on a fast track. Instead of the previously planned phases that were “expected to last about a month” each—taking us from the February 14 start of phase one until phase three sometime in April—we’ll now hit phase three on March 21.
“The restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic are a balancing act between keeping people safe and preventing other harms, and we knew we wouldn’t need them forever,” says premier Tim Houston in a Wednesday afternoon statement announcing the changes. “Now, it’s time to stop pulling the big levers, like broad restrictions, and shift to personal actions and responsibility. We all know what to do to protect ourselves and one another, and it’s time to get back to the people and things we love.”
The first change will come on February 28, when phase one will change to no longer require proof of vaccination at non-essential activities and events.
On March 7, we’ll move into phase two. The limit on informal gatherings (a group of people being near each other without masks) stays at phase one’s 25 people indoors, but increases to 50 people outdoors. At formal events hosted by recognized businesses, performances, sports, movie theatres, meetings, weddings, funerals and more, the limit will be 75 percent of total capacity, up to 5,000 people. Physical distancing is recommended “as much as possible.”
Phase two means businesses like bars, restaurants and casinos can return to regular hours, also with 75 percent capacity and physical distancing “as much as possible.” Gyms have the same 75 percent capacity, and under-the-mask services will return to barber shops, spas and tattoo parlours, which can now operate at full capacity. Retail stores can also operate at full capacity with physical distancing.
For sports as well as performing arts in phase two, 60 people at a time are allowed at practices, rehearsals, games, tournaments and performances, including players and officials. Spectators must follow the other formal gathering limits. Libraries and museums can operate at full capacity with physical distancing.
In phase two, masks continue to be required in indoor public places, but they can now be removed to eat and drink while seated at sports games, concerts and movies (as well as at restaurants, obvi). The government also says masks can be removed while “doing a physical activity that's difficult while wearing a mask,” but doesn’t define what that includes.
Finally, phase two makes changes to reporting. If you test positive for COVID you’ll only be required to notify people in your household, not other close contacts. Self-isolation requirements will not change in this phase. The government says “at acute-care and long-term care facilities, restrictions on visitation and in other areas will be determined through infection control and occupational health processes at each facility,” indicating that there may no longer be provincial-wide mandates for these sectors.
All current restrictions at public schools will continue until the end of March break on March 18.
Phase three will begin March 21. It means the removal of all restrictions across the province, including at schools. The government gives no details on exceptions, so this likely means an end to everything from capacity limits to mask restrictions. Daily COVID updates will also end on March 4, becoming weekly after that.
Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, is quoted as saying “this does not mean COVID-19 is gone,” and today’s daily COVID report backs him up—there are 49 Nova Scotians in hospital and an estimated 1,898 active cases in the province. “There is still lots of virus in communities and as we lift restrictions, our choices and actions become even more important,” Strang says. “They will be the tools that we have to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect those around us who are more vulnerable.”