HALIFAX — As Nova Scotia's COVID-19 outbreak intensified on Friday, the province's premier followed through on a pledge to impose tougher restrictions on residents and visitors alike.
Premier Iain Rankin reported 227 new cases — another daily high — and the virus-related death of a woman in her 70s.
As well, he confirmed that an additional 200 positive cases had yet to be entered into the province's database because public health staff have been overwhelmed by the sudden surge.
"It's a sign that the variants are on the move across the province," Rankin told a virtual news conference. "We will continue to have high numbers for the next several days … Today, we are locking down with even tighter restrictions."
Nova Scotia went into a full lockdown on April 28 when it became clear the virus was spreading at a rapid rate, particularly in the Halifax area. Rankin told reporters Thursday he had grown frustrated with residents and visitors who aren't taking the pandemic seriously and said he wouldn't hesitate to impose new health orders.
On Friday, he delivered on his warning by extending school closures to the end of May and imposing tougher border restrictions. There are also new rules for rotational workers and those who want to go out shopping.
There was no talk of curfews.
Starting Monday at 8 a.m., the border will be closed to all non-essential travel. That includes anyone intending to move to the province, or parents from outside Nova Scotia hoping to pick up or drop off students.
"There's no coming in or out unless it's absolutely essential," Rankin said. "If you want to spend your summer here or go to your summer home, you can't do that right now. Delay your trip."
An application process will be introduced by May 14 for most travellers. The new border rules will remain in place until the end of the month.
As of Friday, Nova Scotia had 1,464 active cases of COVID-19. There were 50 people in hospital with the disease, including nine in intensive care.
"There is more COVID activity in the province than we thought we would find," Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, told reporters. "Our situation is critical, especially in the Halifax area."
Almost all of the newly recorded cases were in the province's central zone, which includes Halifax. And the number of fatalities from COVID-19 rose Friday to 70 as the province confirmed the latest death.
"We're asking a lot, over a year into the pandemic and people are tired, frustrated overwhelmed and afraid — and some of you have checked out," Strang said. "But remember, the last part of any marathon is the hardest."
Strang said people should stop looking for loopholes and he confirmed some travellers have been caught trying to use forged documents, including fake emails that looked like they came from his office.
There have been a number of outbreaks in Atlantic Canada since the pandemic began, but the sudden spike in Nova Scotia has been the worst in the region so far.
The previous outbreaks, including one in Newfoundland and Labrador that forced cancellation of in-person voting for a provincial election, were all brought under control in short order, thanks to compliance with tough lockdown rules.
As a result, the Atlantic region has been repeatedly lauded for being a world leader in keeping the virus under control.
Nova Scotia has been subjected to strict health protocol measures since April 28, which include a ban on travel outside residents' home municipalities.
Under the new rules, rotational workers returning home from so-called outbreak zones — such as Fort McMurray, Alta. — must now self-isolate for 14 days in a separate space, away from others in their household. But they can share a bathroom that is cleaned between uses.
The new shopping rules, which take effect Saturday, call for all households to designate one shopper. And all retail stores offering in-person shopping must impose a limit of one shopper per household, though exceptions will be made for children and caregivers.
Retail stores that sell essential products must limit in-person service to a maximum of 25 per cent of store capacity. Essential products include food, fuel, medicine, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, hardware, pet food, baby products and gardening supplies.
Computer and cellphone services and laundromats are also considered essential.
Meanwhile, the exceptions to the new border rules include:
— permanent residents returning to the province
— people who work outside the province
— post-secondary students returning home or entering to study
— people travelling for child custody reasons
— long-haul truck drivers, airline crew, first responders and people needing essential health services
— people who follow the protocols for travel between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for work, school and child care.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press