Premier Stephen McNeil

HALIFAX: The provincial government is allowing more Nova Scotians to get together and be more active.

On May 15, Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, announced the easing of additional public health restrictions around COVID-19.

“I know a lot of you need a break from being cooped up and shut-in,” McNeil said during the briefing. “Our case numbers have been going down and Dr. Strang and I thank you for cooperating and respecting the rules and each other. But we know that you need a little more, that’s why we’re lifting a few more restrictions to get you outside for some fun.”

The province introduced the immediate family bubble, allowing two immediate family households to come together without physical distancing. The families must be mutually exclusive to each other to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread. This change takes effect immediately.

Families cannot have large family gatherings like birthday celebrations or reunions. When selecting which other family household they’ll connect with, families should to consider age, occupation and the health condition of all household members.

“That means two immediate family households can come together, you will have to figure out who, and you will have to promise that you will be mutually exclusive,” the premier remarked. “You cannot do this with more than one household, and you cannot take visitors.”

Other restrictions being loosened include archery, equestrianism, golf, paddling, sailing/boating, and tennis which can resume at outdoor facilities as of Saturday at 8 a.m. provided social distancing, environmental cleaning and participant hygiene can be maintained. Organized coaching or training, competitions, tournaments, regattas or similar events are not permitted.

“We have worked with Sport Nova Scotia to identify activities that can be done individually or in small groups,” Dr. Strang explained. “Each of the provincial organizations responsible for these outdoor activities have presented solid plans to re-open their outdoor facilities and activities safely.”

Public beaches can also reopen as of May 16 at 8 a.m. but people must stay two metres apart and not gather in groups of more than five.

“Beaches are open for walks,” Dr. Strang said. “Paddling, surfing and other activities can resume.”

Provincial and municipal parks reopened on May 1 but playground equipment will continue to be off limits.

The province-wide ban on open fires – those within 305 metres (1,000 feet) of woods anywhere in the province including domestic brush burning and beach fires – has been extended to June 1 at 11:59 p.m. Use of backyard appliances like chimineas and fire pits will be temporarily permitted for households. The ban does not apply to private campgrounds.

“You can only sit around the fire with your household or the household in your immediate family bubble,” Dr. Strang explained.

A phased plan to further lift public health restrictions is under development. It will be informed by local data and consultation, and guided by a national framework developed by chief medical officers of health. The timing of each phase will be determined by the result of the easing of restrictions.

“Our collective actions, even this weekend, will determine how quickly we can open things in the weeks and months to come,” Dr. Strang noted. “If we start to see more virus activity, we may have to pull back and restrict these activities again.”

At a press conference the day before, held just after a meeting of the cabinet, McNeil was asked about more provincial help for small businesses, but instead pointed to federal announcements made last week.

The federal government announced support for small businesses and communities with targeted assistance delivered by regional development agencies.

The new $962 million Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) designed to help businesses and organizations in sectors such as manufacturing, technology, tourism, and others that are key to the regions and to local economies, is now accepting applications from businesses and communities that may require additional help to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic but have been unable to access existing support measures.

The government said the fund will be tailored to the unique needs of businesses, and will help them pay employees and cover costs.

According to the government, six regional development agencies (RDA) will be delivering this funding. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will receive $110 million.

As other government measures are further strengthened, the RDAs will adapt to meet the ongoing needs of local businesses. Businesses interested in receiving support through this initiative are invited to apply for the RRRF through their local RDA.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced a series of measures aimed at Canadian seniors, including an additional $2.5 billion for a one-time tax-free payment of $300 for seniors eligible for the Old Age Security (OAS) pension, with an additional $200 for seniors eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

The federal government said it is expanding the New Horizons for Seniors Program with an additional investment of $20 million to support organizations that offer community-based projects that reduce isolation, improve the quality of life of seniors, and help them maintain a social support network.

The feds are temporarily extending GIS and Allowance payments if seniors’ 2019 income information has not been assessed. To avoid an interruption in benefits, seniors are encouraged to submit their 2019 income information as soon as possible and no later than by October 1, 2020.