HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia Health is asking anyone who works in a licensed establishment or went to a bar or restaurant in the Halifax Regional Municipality after 10 p.m. in the last two weeks to book a COVID-19 test, even if they don’t have symptoms.

The announcement is part of what the government is calling a "broad asymptomatic testing strategy for people who go to or work in late-night bars and restaurants."

The news comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Nova Scotia's Central Zone, which includes the Halifax Regional Municipality. Nova Scotia Health has issued a number of potential COVID-19 exposure advisories over the past two weeks, many of which include restaurants in the Halifax area.

"Most of our recent cases of COVID-19 have been among young people who have been to late-night bars and restaurants," said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, in a news release. "This broad testing initiative will help us detect new cases early, get people who test positive to self-isolate and stop the spread of the virus. This is one tool in our toolbox, but it does not diminish how important it is for people to tighten their social circles and activities and follow public health measures." 

People who work in a licensed establishment or have been to a bar or restaurant in urban and suburban HRM after 10 p.m. since Nov. 10 are asked to visit the COVID self assessment page to schedule a COVID-19 test.

This applies to all bars and restaurants that are open late and serve alcohol in HRM (except the areas east of Porters Lake), and the Enfield and Mount Uniacke areas in both HRM and Hants County.

People who are tested through this process do not need to self-isolate while they wait for test results, as long as they don't have symptoms.

"This isn't about blaming or shaming," added Strang. "The important thing right now is that people come forward so we can identify as many cases of COVID-19 as we can and take action to reduce the spread."

Asymptomatic testing will be available to staff and patrons of licensed establishments until Nov. 30. Walk-in testing is not available; people must book in advance. There are limited spaces available. A health card isn't required for online booking but will be required at the testing appointment.

A rapid-testing pilot that began on Saturday in downtown Halifax will continue this week. These pop-up sites will move to new locations each day.

Anyone who gets a positive result from the rapid test will get a standard test and be sent home immediately to self-isolate while they wait for the results.

When the province opened the special stream for bar staff and patrons, within hours 4,000 people had signed up.

Julianna Lukier was one of them.

"As students and young people that attend bars and restaurants late at night, that we all get tested and we all take as many precautionary measures as possible to protect the public," Lukier said.

Pub owner Brian Doherty will encourage his staff to get tested

"I think it's a great idea. We should be using whatever tools there are in the tool chest to fight this disease," Doherty said.

In addition to asking staff to get tested, restaurants and bars in Halifax are no longer allowed to offer "dine-in" food service. Some had already taken it upon themselves to make that change. They are still allowed to offer takeout and delivery.

"We thought it was the best thing to do for our customers, our staff, our families," said Dartmouth diner owner Stephen Fatouros.