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The provincial governments of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island, announced Monday morning that anyone arriving to the provinces from other regions in the Maritimes will have to self-isolate for 14 days, breaking down the Atlantic bubble.
The government of Newfoundland and Labrador said updates on this “temporary” change, which comes into effect on Wednesday, are expected to be made in two weeks for the province. Officials will be looking at the epidemiology in Atlantic regions and outbreak numbers, including the level of community spread.
“Implementing this change for a two-week period is an effort to avoid a full lockdown,” Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Dr. Andrew Furey said at a press conference. “As we have seen the number of [infections] begin to creep up throughout the Maritimes, our own alarm bells began to sound.”
“The circuit break means all travel to and from the province will only be for essential reasons...If anyone within the group has particularly extenuating circumstances, making 14 days of self-isolation impossible, there will be an option to apply for testing to possibly shorten that time of quarantine.”
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King confirmed at a separate press conference that the province is suspending all non-essential travel to and from P.E.I. for a two-week period, beginning on Tuesday.
“I don’t believe it is a step backwards for us, even though we know it is a tough measures,” King said. “I feel it is a proactive measure, I feel it is a preventative step and a preemptive decision, which we hope will allow us to maintain the level of almost ordinary life that we have been enjoying in this province.”
“The risk to our province from an infection standpoint has always been from the outside. All of our cases have been imported through travel and I think it is important to note that even though we are seeing escalation in the region, none of our cases to date have come from the bubble but...we know that things are changing.”
Dr. Furey identified that this is not the news people in the province wanted to hear before Christmas, but stressed that officials need to be “proactive” to limit COVID-19 transmission in Newfoundland and Labrador.
‘I am concerned that it may already be here in some people’
Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer of P.E.I., stressed that as provinces and territories across Canada as seeing record numbers of COVID-19 cases, it has “become apparent” that Nova Scotia and News Brunswick are experiencing a second-wave of the pandemic and there is evidence of community spread.
“It’s actually likely that P.E.I. will have cases related to the exposures and outbreaks currently underway elsewhere in Canada,” Dr. Morrison said. “I am concerned that it may already be here in some people.”
She confirmed that students studying off-island will be required to self-isolate when they travel back to P.E.I., and individuals will be able to travel to the province for compassionate purposes and custody arrangements. People in P.E.I. will also be able to attend off-island medical appointments.
Individuals who need to travel within Atlantic Canada, including medical appointments, transportation of goods or pickup of a university student, who return to P.E.I. within 24 hours, do not need to self-isolate.
When asked if there are any plans to implement point-of-entry testing in Newfoundland and Labrador, Dr. Furey said that type of testing “creates a false sense of hope” for people who test negative, with studies suggesting that point-of-exit testing, at the end of quarantine, is most effective.
“You can’t forget, there is a 30 per cent false negative rate, so if they’re negative at the time of entry that doesn’t necessarily mean they are negative,” he said. “In fact, there’s three out of 10 people who would be walking around the community who would actually indeed be positive.”
Newfoundland and Labrador reported two new COVID-19 cases on Monday, one related to travel from Manitoba and another who is a contact of a previous case. The province has also had its first confirmed COVID-19 case in a child who has attended school.
P.E.I. reported one new COVID-19 case on Monday, a woman who travelled to the province from outside the Atlantic bubble. There are currently two active cases in the province.
In Sunday’s update, Nova Scotia reported 44 active COVID-19 cases in the province. On Saturday, New Brunswick reported 71 active cases.