Province planning to loosen more public health restrictions

HALIFAX: The province is planning to lift some public health restrictions in the short-term and has plans to loosen more rules in coming weeks.

On May 1, Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, announced the easing of some measures around COVID-19.

The premier called it a “slow and steady” opening of Nova Scotia to gradually get back to some normalcy.

“In the past seven weeks, our province has experienced tremendous tragedy, and I’m worried about all of you and I’m worried about how we are coping,” McNeil told a briefing in Halifax last Friday. “We need to get out of our heads, and out of our houses, and get outside. We need to feel that fresh air, a little freedom. The key word is little.”

Public health directives established in March around social distancing and social gatherings remain in place. People must keep two metres apart and not gather in groups of more than five.

Provincial and municipal parks can re-open, including school grounds and sports fields, and trails are allowed to open.

“We ask that as much as possible, that you do not drive to parks and trails, but you enjoy what is in your community,” Dr. Strang noted. “That goes for ATV users as well.

“If people do need to drive within their community to get to a park or trail, it’s important to not create crowded parking lots or roadsides. If there’s already a significant number of cars there, please don’t stop. Go somewhere else.”

For now, beaches and playgrounds will remain closed but Dr. Strang hopes they will re-open soon.

“Playgrounds have many challenges for maintaining social distance for kids, plus have many high touch surfaces that cannot be sanitized,” Dr. Strang said, noting that some Nova Scotians have to travel to access beaches.

People are allowed to use and visit community gardens, while garden centres, nurseries and similar businesses can open, but the same rules in effect for stores and businesses across the province still apply to these outlets.

“These gardens are important for many reasons, including how they help address food security,” Dr. Strang noted.

Sport fishing is permitted from shore or boat, but fishing derbies or festivals are not allowed. And people from outside the province towing boats for sport fishing will not be allowed into Nova Scotia.

People can attend boating, yacht or sailing clubs for the purpose of preparing boats for use. Food services within marinas will be limited to take-out like other restaurants.

“People, however, need to continue to practice social distancing on the shore and at the boat launch, and if they’re boating, it must be with people from their household,” Dr. Strang stated. “Now isn’t the time to start to inviting friends and neighbours.”

Golf driving ranges can open, including those at golf clubs, but the course must remain closed. Golf clubs can perform necessary maintenance and preparations for opening and their restaurants will also be allowed to fill take-out orders.

“Their workers, like other businesses, must maintain social distancing and those using the drive ranges must also maintain a social distance of six feet,” Dr. Strang said.

People can use their cottages, but use is restricted to one household unit at a time. Travel must be directly to the cottage and back, and travelling back and forth frequently between the cottage and the primary residence is discouraged.

“Nova Scotians can go to their cottages, but we’re asking them to do that with their own family or their own household unit; people that they’re already living with,” said Dr. Strang.

Provincial and private campgrounds remain closed, but they can perform necessary maintenance and preparations for opening. An exception is recreational vehicles parked year-round at private campgrounds, which can be used but must follow the same rules as cottages.

“Private campgrounds can open for seasonal campers in fixed RV campsites,” Dr. Strang explained. “No weekend or short-term campers are permitted at this time.”

Drive-in religious services will be allowed, as long as people stay in their cars, they are parked two metres apart and there are no interactions between people in cars, or between people in cars and others.

A phased plan to lift more public health restrictions is under development.

“Our ability to open up further in outdoor activities and open up other areas will really depend on how these first steps go,” Dr. Strang said.

McNeil said he has asked health minister Randy Delorey and the deputy minister of health to speak with health care leaders about offering short stay or day surgery procedures, and opening up day clinics.

“This will be first step in trying to understand how to open up our healthcare system under new protocols,” the premier stated.

The premier also directed Dr. Strang to open discussions with government departments about re-opening sectors like restaurants, cosmetology, small businesses, and sports and recreation.

“We need to work together to figure out what a new normal looks like,” McNeil added. “And it is my hope that a road map will start to take shape as conversations about opening our economy take place.”