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N.S., N.L. premiers oppose sharing their vaccine supplies with harder-hit provinces

·3 min read

HALIFAX — Two East Coast premiers say they oppose sharing vaccine supplies with harder-hit provinces, after the Canadian Medical Association suggested Ottawa rethink its per capita-based system of distributing doses.

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said Friday the national vaccine rollout should continue distributing doses based on population rather than on the severity of the virus's spread. Ontario and other provinces with high infection levels should focus on lockdowns and other public health measures to suppress the virus, he told reporters.

"If we were to redirect a proportion of our vaccines, it would be a drop in the bucket for a province the size of Ontario," Rankin said.

"The volume of vaccines that were committed to by (Ottawa) is what we expect to get in this province."

The Canadian Medical Association issued a news release on Friday saying it wants Ottawa to consider reprioritizing its vaccine distribution strategy to focus on hard-hit areas.

"As the third wave of the pandemic wreaks havoc … we are at a critical juncture where a truly national approach to combating COVID-19 will make the difference between more or fewer lives saved,” Dr. Ann Collins, president of the association, said in the release.

"This country must come together to help support provinces most severely impacted."

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey took a similar stance to Rankin, saying "it is only fair" for the existing system to continue when any province could quickly take a turn for the worse because of highly contagious variants of the virus.

"Given the dynamic nature of this pandemic, any province or territory could be in a serious situation at any point," Furey said in a news release.

On Friday, the total number of reported COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia was 60. In Ontario, the number was more than 47,000.

Nova Scotia reported six new cases Friday while Newfoundland and Labrador reported three new infections.

Ontario reported 4,812 new cases, marking three straight days of new peaks. Admissions to hospitals rose to 1,955, with 701 people being treated in ICUs.

Meanwhile, both Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia are making progress with vaccines: Nova Scotia has provided 200,000 first doses while Newfoundland and Labrador has administered 122,249.

That represents about one-fifth of their populations.

The premiers, however, said they're open to requests from Ontario and other provinces for other forms of assistance. Both said their health systems can provide personnel, expertise and extra medical equipment if their hospital systems have unused capacity.

"If there are some other supplies or resources that they require, we will be more flexible with that and I think Nova Scotians would actually volunteer to step up to help," Rankin said.

"We … are quite happy to provide personnel, expertise and extra equipment where capacity allows," Furey said.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said his province can't become complacent at a time variant-involved cases of COVID-19 emerge each day.

He announced that residents will need to wear masks in restaurants — indoors or outdoors — other than when they are eating. Masks are also now required in outdoor public events such as farm markets and festivals.

Strang said he also favours maintaining the existing vaccine-distribution system. He used the analogy of fighting a house fire, saying that targeted lockdowns are like applying a fire hose to extinguish flare-ups, while the vaccine is more akin to installing fire-safety features in every house on the street.

"From my thinking, it doesn't make sense to reallocate vaccine because what that would do is put other parts of the country at risk," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2021.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press