Blowing bubbles: Rankin government draws heat for modifications to reopening plan that force New Brunswick travellers to quarantine

    HALIFAX: A group of influential business leaders and families planning trips over the New Brunswick border to visit their loved ones are upset over the strategy shift announced last Tuesday, on the eve of what many expected would mark renewed freedom to travel in the Atlantic provinces after a six-month lockdown.

    Nova Scotia Premier Rankin and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, warned two weeks ago that restrictions could be tighter for New Brunswick after that province’s surprise move to open its borders to all Canadians, effective immediately, with no isolation or testing required of travellers who have one dose of vaccine.

    Serial entrepreneur Robert Zed, spokesperson for an alliance of influential business leaders upset over efforts to reboot the economy as a third wave of COVID-19 is stamped out, says Rankin has reneged on the Atlantic Bubble.

    “The confusion and lack of clarity is difficult for us to understand,” he says.

    The Nova Scotia Business Alliance, a group of more than 110 business elites and others, banded together a couple weeks ago over their frustration about the premier’s re-opening plan.

    Rankin seemed to appease the group when he announced plans to reopen the Atlantic Bubble a week early and gave a specific date for when other Canadians can come to the province.

    But they’re not happy with the modified bubble or Rankin’s failure to offer any details on how Nova Scotia might fit with the plan Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled Monday to lift travel restrictions, effective July 5, for Canadians, permanent residents, and certain foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated.

    Effective June 30, other Canadians will be allowed to enter the province. They will have to following the same self-isolation rules, depending on vaccine status.

    “We are not pleased. We are not sitting down,” Zed tells The Reporter. “I cannot keep up with the emails of shock, dismay, and anger with the misjudgment and lack of business sense with this government.”

    He says members of the group wonder why the science-based decisions are more conservative in Nova Scotia compared to other provinces, including New Brunswick.

    Rankin defended the reopening plan in a June 22 COVID-19 press briefing.

    He says, with two COVID-related deaths announced that day, he’s not prepared to risk more losses “for the sake of opening up one or two weeks early.”

    He says one dose of vaccine hasn’t proven effective against the highly contagious delta variant, so the aim is to get the population that’s 65 and older fully vaccinated with two doses before opening up Nova Scotia’s borders further.

    Rankin said he and Strang had many discussions about the New Brunswick border to learn about that province’s border restrictions. His government tried to reach New Brunswick officials last week, but were unsuccessful. A hoped-for call between the four Atlantic premiers to discuss New Brunswick’s different tack failed to materialize.

    Rankin says he didn’t notify New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs about the modified bubble.

    On June 24, the province announced it is opening the border to people travelling from New Brunswick without restrictions starting today (June 30) at 8 a.m. They said there will be no requirements to self-isolate or complete the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in.

    Also beginning June 30, the province said people travelling from provinces and territories outside Atlantic Canada can come into Nova Scotia. They said those coming into the province will have to complete the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in form, upload their proof of vaccination electronically and be prepared to show it, if asked by border officials.

    However, they may have to isolate based on vaccination and testing, the province noted.

    According to the province, people who have had two doses of vaccine at least 14 days before arriving in Nova Scotia will not have to self-isolate but testing is recommended.

    People who have had one dose of vaccine at least 14 days before arriving in Nova Scotia must self-isolate for at least seven days, they cannot leave isolation until they get two negative tests results while in Nova Scotia, and tests should be on day one or two and on day five or six, the province stated.

    Those who have not had any vaccine and those who had a first dose within 14 days of arrival must isolate for 14 days, and the province recommends testing at the beginning and end of their isolation.

    Effective immediately, people travelling from New Brunswick with two doses do not have to isolate at all, the province said, noting that testing is recommended.

    Currently, anyone from outside Atlantic Canada who completes 14 days of isolation in Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador can enter Nova Scotia without isolating again, the province confirmed.

    Strang echoed Rankin’s concerns about the delta variant and the need for more time to get Nova Scotians fully vaccinated.

    He says 71.4 per cent of Nova Scotia’s population has a first dose, compared to 66.1 per cent for the rest of Canada. The aim is to reach 75 per cent by the end of August, which would make Nova Scotia “one of the safest places in the world.”

    Zed says the border restrictions undermine the $18 million the province is spending to woo Atlantic Canadian tourists to Nova Scotia.

    “The tourism marketing campaign announced last week largely is targeted at New Brunswick,” says Zed. “A week later, they blow the bubble up. If that doesn’t show leadership without vision or care for Nova Scotians and the economy, where businesses have been brought to their knees, we do not know what does.”