Atlantic Canadians are closely eyeing travel requirements and coronavirus case numbers across the region as the four provinces prepare to open their borders to their neighbours Friday, an experiment thats prompted excitement and anxiety among residents.
COVID-19 cases in the region have dwindled in recent weeks, and the four provinces have agreed to waive isolation requirements among the group to boost their economies and offer social support to residents.
While many tourism operators and those missing family and friends celebrated the news, others have criticized the bubble over fears that the virus will rebound.
An online petition asking Newfoundland and Labrador to keep its borders closed has generated nearly 15,000 signatures this week.
“Our province has been slowly healing and going back to normal, we want to keep it that way,” the petition reads. “This is not the time.”
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health, addressed fears that the province is moving too fast in a news conference this week, pointing to low case numbers while encouraging residents to trust in science.
Her Nova Scotian counterpart, Dr. Robert Strang, also shared a message to anxious residents in a statement on Thursday encouraging them to continue following health guidelines.
“I know many people are still nervous about this virus. Our visitors may be, too,” Strangs statement said. “We can make their visits a safe experience for everyone by being patient and kind, by practising good hand hygiene, distancing and by wearing a mask when you cant stay six feet apart.”
Nova Scotia, the most populous province in the region, has reported three new COVID-19 cases this week, two related to travel to the U.S. and the third involving a temporary worker who arrived from outside Canada.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil addressed concerns about the bubble, telling Nova Scotians the economic opportunity wont come at the expense of their health.
“Our tourism sector needs this, and we need to try to make it work, but I want to reassure all of you that if we see a spike of COVID, we will re-evaluate,” McNeil said.
St. Johns resident David Brake was in the process of planning a late-July trip to Prince Edward Island with his two children on the eve of the travel bubbles opening.
While he would usually plan a vacation further afield, Brake decided to take advantage of the travel bubble this year and visit a new province, scheduling a flight to Halifax, with plans to stop in New Brunswick on the way to the Island.
He said hes confident that the trip will be safe for his family given the low coronavirus case numbers at the moment.
But hes pondering how his holiday might be perceived by neighbours upon his return, with many Newfoundlanders still skeptical about whether its safe to venture off the island that has so far beaten back the virus.
“If Im not isolated because nobody asked me to, am I going to be a pariah for two weeks? Are my children going to be a pariah for two weeks?” he wondered.
For those planning trips to another province, some identification and preventive measures will be required.
Adults travelling to Nova Scotia must show proof of residency in one of the four provinces in order to enter without having to isolate for 14 days.
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