The news release said that because of "low case numbers over the holidays" licensed establishments in HRM and select parts of Hants county that had a previous spike in cases would be permitted to re-open on January 4, provided they follow provincial restrictions set out by the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia (RANS).
These restrictions include six feet of space between tables, mask-wearing for servers (and for patrons who get out of their seats), and closing by 11pm. The Halifax casino and any video lottery terminals must remain closed.
Currently, there are 22 active cases of Covid-19 in the province. As the government told us on December 28, there were 13 new cases found between December 25 and 28, and an additional seven cases on Christmas Eve.
And though the reported cases are few, there may be several cases transmitted over the holidays that have yet to surface, due to the virus' 14-day incubation period.
But this news comes as a shock to many restaurant owners and employees, who were previously told that January 10 would be the next earliest possible opening date, under the holiday gathering restrictions announced the week before Christmas.
"What we need to do is reduce the chances that the virus has to spread between people. So in restaurants and licensed establishments, we need to reduce the longer social interactions where people are not wearing masks because they're eating and drinking," said Strang back on December 16.
Gordon Stewart, the executive director of RANS, says the group has been lobbying the government to re-open since the holiday announcement in mid-December.
"We had made a pitch to the premier and Dr. Strang earlier this week on Tuesday and tried to get the restaurants open for New Years, the numbers were good, staying good," he tells The Coast in a phone call.
Stewart says the decision to reopen was based on recent case numbers alone, but it's beneficial to restaurants that are hanging on by a thread. "Certainly the small and medium-sized ones were hurting a lot, and they needed to get out and try to generate revenue once again," he said.
The association told the government that restaurants would need about five days lead time to plan to re-open, alert staff, and get extra supplies in stock.
"I don't think anyone was expecting this," he says, saying that restaurants and suppliers were only notified this morning—slightly before the public—about the re-opening.
All in all, the pressure from RANS led the government to change its mind. And in this case, it's to the economic benefit of restauranteurs, servers, bartenders, and maybe even the mental and social wellbeing of all of us. Just don't forget to dine with your bubble, mask up, and sanitize thoroughly.