“In many parts of our country, families cannot be together due to COVID,” said chief medical officer of health Robert Strang at Nova Scotia’s COVID briefing this week. “Yesterday New Brunswick announced travel restrictions for the Moncton, Fredericton and Edmundston regions.”
But here, the fourth wave of infections isn’t as intense right now. “Thankfully, Nova Scotia is in a much different situation,” Strang said. “We’re not fully out of the pandemic, but we’ve come a long way and we have much to be thankful for.”
Nova Scotia’s modified Phase 5 COVID rules will be in effect over the Thanksgiving holiday long weekend, allowing people to get together in groups of up to 25 indoors, enough for even the biggest turkey dinner. But across the border in New Brunswick, the situation looks a lot different. “ICUs are full and they are now instituting lockdowns,” said Strang. During a COVID update Tuesday, New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs told the public that extended family dinners with anyone outside the household are not permitted.
“Social gathering of unvaccinated New Brunswickers is driving our current situation,” Higgs said. “That is why we are requiring all New Brunswickers to limit contacts to single-household close contacts for both private indoor and outdoor gatherings.”
New Brunswick also implemented a circuit breaker in three regions: Fredericton, Moncton and Edmundston. But this Thanksgiving protocol applies to the whole province. “We have seen an unprecedented number of deaths, hospitalizations and ICU admissions over the last month, more than at any time since the pandemic began,” said the province’s top doctor Jennifer Russell.
On Thursday, New Brunswick reported 116 new cases to push the caseload to 825 active cases, its highest level for the entire pandemic; according to the NB data dashboard there are 55 COVID patients in hospital, 31 of them in the ICU. At the same time, Nova Scotia had 30 new cases but more recoveries, and the caseload dropped to 247 active cases with 16 people in hospital, only five of them in intensive care.
As in Nova Scotia, New Brunswickers are still allowed to meet up at restaurants for their Thanksgiving feasts provided they have POV. “Individuals showing proof of vaccination and a government-issued ID, as well as children under 12 accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult, can continue to go to businesses and events during this period,” said Higgs. “That is because these businesses are controlled environments where everyone is checked and confirmed to be fully vaccinated. The area of greatest concern right now would be casual, in-home gatherings.”
When asked about Nova Scotians who want to visit New Brunswick or vice versa, Doctor Strang said as long as they don’t go to the circuit-breaker regions, it’s OK: “We ask Nova Scotians to respect the New Brunswick travel restrictions and avoid non-essential travel to these areas of our neighbouring province.”
As long as Nova Scotians are vaccinated, they are still permitted to cross the border and return without isolation. Strang only mentioned avoiding those specific areas involved in the circuit breaker, not the province as a whole. “Help New Brunswick out, don’t travel to those areas right now unless it’s essential,” he said. “That also helps protect us here in Nova Scotia, there’s certainly increased virus activity in those parts of New Brunswick so it helps reduce the chance of the virus being brought back here as well.”
The NS government tells The Coast there are still 24/7 checkpoints at the border and all cars are stopped unless they have the green chit indicating frequent and approved cross-border travel. “Additional staff have been added to manage the long weekend traffic,” says Tracy Barron, spokesperson for the department of environment, in an email. “If there are traffic backups, they will be managed to ensure public safety, as was done during the Labour Day weekend.”
Those Labour Day weekend delays caused the checkpoint to be shut down for one hour on Friday and four hours on Monday. Travellers this weekend should bring a digital or paper copy of their vaccine record. The QR code scanning app, which is expected to speed up the process, has not been implemented yet.