After two days of higher-than-usual COVID-19 case numbers in the province–eight yesterday and 10 today, with 89 percent of the cases occurring in the HRM-including Central health zone–Halifax is getting some new restrictions. The announcement came this afternoon at the regular C19 briefing from Nova Scotia top doc Robert Strang and new premier Iain Rankin.
“For the second time in three months we have to activate what we are calling a circuit breaker in HRM,” Strang said. The regulations will only apply to part of the regional municipality and surrounding counties, extending from the core of Halifax, Dartmouth and Bedford to Hubbards, Mount Uniacke, Enfield, Elmsdale and Porter’s Lake.
One of the new requests is a lockdown on travel: residents of the affected area don’t leave the region and those who live outside don’t go in, for “non-essential” reasons. “People from the Annapolis Valley or South Shore, for example, should not be looking to come shopping in HRM,” Strang said. “Individuals in HRM should not be looking just to go visit family or friends in Truro or in the Annapolis Valley.”
Other restrictions starting Saturday, February 27 at 8am include that restaurants must close at 10pm–one hour earlier than the current rule–and food and drink service must end by 9pm.
“We know that any type of setting where people are in close proximity for long periods of time, especially when they don’t need to wear a mask, which includes places for eating and drinking, that is certainly settings that are a significant risk for transmitting the virus,” said Strang when asked about the motivation behind that decision.
For arts and sports groups, the audiences that were able to watch for the past few weeks must bid adieu for now. While these groups are still permitted to hold practices and rehearsals (or livestream events) with up to 25 participants, the long-awaited return of in-person theatre is once again delayed.
Finally, weddings and funerals are back down to 10 attendees, with no receptions. Faith-based gathering numbers are reduced down to 150 outdoors or 50 percent of a venue’s capacity up to 100 people indoors. And once again, only approved caregivers and healthcare workers can visit long-term care homes.
“We had hoped we would not be back in the situation where these restrictions are necessary. We understand that they are disruptive but they are absolutely critical to contain the spread of COVID-19," said Strang. "Everyone needs to behave with the same caution as they did last spring when the virus first arrived in Nova Scotia. Everyone needs to get tested even if they only have one mild symptom."
These new rules in HRM-plus-a-bit will remain for at least four weeks. With only one day’s notice of cancellation, Strang was apologetic to those who may lose money and time put into planning events. But he said it’s better than the alternative.
“Hopefully people have understood that as we go through this pandemic, that we don’t have the luxury of announcing something and waiting for it to come into effect for a week. That we have to act and we have to act fast,” he said. “I apologize and I’m sorry for the burden that places on people, but I’d much rather apologize for that than to sit here and have to apologize for why the virus is now out of control ‘cause we didn’t act quickly.”
While premier Rankin said this wasn’t the news he wanted to be giving at his second-ever C19 press briefing, with a tidal wave of cases looming he had to step up to the plate. “We’re heading into a weekend and I wish I could tell you to go out and enjoy yourself but I can’t do that,” Rankin said. “I’m asking you to stay home and keep your circle small. None of us wants a return to double-digit numbers and more restrictions.”