Concerns were being raised about the impact a protest at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border was having on the supply chain and the movement of essential workers, including hospital staff, as the highway blockade stretched into its second night Wednesday before being broken up by police.
Protesters descended on the Trans-Canada Highway on Tuesday in response to new isolation and testing rules for people travelling to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick. The rules were announced by Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin only hours before the restrictions were expected to be lifted, prompting anger on both sides of the border.
Some traffic began moving again at 9 p.m. AT on Wednesday after dozens of police officers lined up on the roadway to create a barrier between protesters and the highway. RCMP arrested at least two people at the scene.
The border disruption affected health services Wednesday in Amherst, N.S., where the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre was forced to reduce its services.
Bethany McCormick, the provincial health authority's vice-president of operations for the northern zone, said earlier in the day that protesters were allowing doctors through the border, but not other critical staff.
"It is very important to us that we find a resolution to this blockade so that we can go back to normal services for our patients and families in our communities," she said in an interview.
McCormick said it was likely that patients and families seeking care were also being delayed at the border.
John Wright, health services director at the facility, said 125 employees and between 10 and 12 physicians commute to the Amherst hospital from New Brunswick.
Wright said over 110 appointments had already been cancelled for people coming to the centre for echocardiograms, mammograms, and people attending surgical clinics, prenatal appointments and pacemaker clinics.
McCormick said the protest's impacts were far-reaching, noting that colleagues at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax said critical supplies for diagnostic tests were stuck at the border and would soon expire.
Wider supply chain
The broader supply chain was also affected by the blockade, said Jean-Marc Picard, the head of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.
Hours before the protesters dispersed, he said stranded truck drivers were growing desperate and the situation had reached a critical point.
"You're going to see shelves going empty," he said in an interview.
"Fuel stations are going to run out of fuel. Pharmacies are going to run out of medicine. Water supply is going to go low. Everything is going."
He said the disruption was on a key artery that connects Atlantic Canada to the rest of the country and the world.
Picard said there were already "hundreds of loads" delayed Wednesday, and further delays could result in weeks of backlog and severe disruptions.
Osborne Burke, president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, said there were 11 trucks carrying perishable fresh frozen or live lobster stuck at the border crossing Wednesday. He said the average value of the cargo on each truck was around $500,000.
"You can make your points, but you don't have to shut down the industry altogether to do that," Burke said of the protesters.
The blockade also affected the bottom line of the region's struggling tourism sector, according to David Clarke, general manager of the Atlantica Hotel in Halifax and former head of the Hotel Association of Nova Scotia.
Clarke said he had reports from several hotels that 50 per cent of bookings for this weekend had been cancelled.
He said the hotel sector has been able to keep afloat because of federal and provincial programs, but they are already winding down.
"We're in a very difficult position to continue at these levels of occupancy," he said.
Clarke said he was fearful consumers worried about changing restrictions would start to book their vacations in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador.
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