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'I truly believe that we are ready': N.S. to lift all COVID-19 restrictions on March 21

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The Nova Scotia government is moving up its timeline for easing public health restrictions.

Premier Tim Houston says, if the province continues to stay on its current course, all COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines will be lifted on March 21 -- almost two years to the day after Nova Scotia first declared a state of emergency, on March 22, 2020.

"This is significant and I know, as much as this is the news so many have been waiting for, there are many others who will be extremely nervous by that news," said Houston during a COVID-19 news conference Wednesday. "We can all agree this has been a long, long run.

"Now, it's time to stop pulling the big levers, like broad restrictions, and shift to personal actions and responsibility. We all know what to do to protect ourselves and one another, and it's time to get back to the people and things we love."

The province is also making adjustments to guidelines in Phase 1 – the phase Nova Scotia is currently in.

Effective Monday, people will no longer be required to provide proof of full vaccination before participating in non-essential, discretionary events and activities.

Other restrictions under Phase 1 will remain in place.

"This does not mean COVID-19 is gone," said Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health. "There is still lots of virus in communities and as we lift restrictions, our choices and actions become even more important. They will be the tools that we have to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect those around us who are more vulnerable."

The province's top doctor says he understands Wednesday’s announcement may make some Nova Scotians uneasy.

"Now it is time to move away from two years of crisis response and approach living with COVID in a long-term and manageable manner," Strang said. "There is risk of course, but that would be true if we did it last week, or two months from now. There is no textbook that lays out exactly when, and how to do this. It's a balance."

"I truly believe that we are ready, that Nova Scotians are ready."

With many businesses struggling due to COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines, Halifax bar owner Victor Syperek doesn't want to wait to open up. He says restrictions should be lifted now.

"I think we should catch up to everybody else and just open up," he said. "This is very harmful on every small business in town."

PHASE 2 STARTS MARCH 7

Nova Scotia is scheduled to enter Phase 2 of its reopening plan on March 7.

"Phase 2 will last for two weeks and we will be monitoring our usual indicators closely during that time, and if everything remains stable, we will move to Phase 3 on March 21," said Strang. "At that point, restrictions and mandates will end."

In Phase 2, the following restrictions will be in place:

GATHERING LIMITS

  • The informal gathering limit will be 25 people from the same household or close social group indoors and 50 outdoors.
  • The formal gathering limit will be 75 per cent capacity, with physical distancing as much as possible. This applies for gatherings hosted by a recognized business or organization such as special events, sports, receptions, performances, movie theatres, meetings, training, weddings, funerals and faith gatherings.
  • Large venues can operate at 75 per cent capacity, with a maximum of 5,000 people, with physical distancing as much as possible.

BUSINESSES

  • Licensed establishments, restaurants and casinos can return to regular hours and operate at 75 per cent capacity, with physical distancing as much as possible.
  • VLTs can continue operating with two metres of physical distance between people at machines.
  • Fitness and recreation facilities and recreation and leisure businesses can operate at 75 per cent capacity, with physical distancing as much as possible.
  • Personal services businesses - such as hair salons, barber shops, spas, nail salons and body art establishments - can operate at full capacity, with physical distancing as much as possible. Services that require removing masks can also be offered in Phase 2.
  • Retail stores and malls can operate at full capacity, with physical distancing.

SPORTS, ARTS AND CULTURE

  • Sports teams can have practices, games, competitions and tournaments with up to 60 participants, including players and officials. Spectators are allowed, following the formal gathering limit.
  • Performing arts can have rehearsals, performances and competitions with up to 60 participants, including performers and crew. Spectators are allowed, following the formal gathering limit.
  • Libraries and museums can operate at full capacity, with physical distancing.

MASKING

  • Masks will continue to be required in indoor public places. They can be lowered or removed for things like eating and drinking or doing a physical activity that's difficult while wearing a mask.
  • People can resume lowering their masks to eat or drink in their seats at sports games, movies, concerts and other events.

People who test positive for COVID-19 during Phase 2 will still be required to self-isolate, but they will no longer be required to notify close contacts outside of their household.

Public health notes that all restrictions at public schools will remain in place until the end of March break.

"The measures that are in place now, such as cohorting and masking, will remain the same until March break. And when students and teachers return on March 21, it will be to schools and classrooms with no restrictions or required measures," said Strang.

At acute-care and long-term care facilities, restrictions on visitation and in other areas will be determined through infection control and occupational health processes at each facility.

Strang said, in addition to the changes in restrictions, the province’s last daily COVID-19 news release will be issued on March 4. After that, the province will release a weekly report on the COVID-19 situation.

DROP IN HOSPITALIZATIONS

The province did not report any new deaths or outbreaks related to the virus on Wednesday.

To date, Nova Scotia has reported 191 COVID-19-related deaths.

Health officials are reporting three new hospital admissions and four discharges related to COVID-19.

Public health says there were 49 people in hospital Wednesday who were admitted due to COVID-19 and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit. That number is down from 53 people on Tuesday.

Of the 49 people in hospital:

  • 11 are in intensive care
  • the age range is 18 to 96 years old
  • the median age is 67
  • the average length of stay in hospital is 6.5 days
  • 46 were admitted during the Omicron wave

The vaccination status of the 49 people in hospital is as follows:

  • 13 (26.5 per cent) people have had a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine
  • 22 (44.9 per cent) are fully vaccinated (two doses)
  • 1 (2.0 per cent) is partially vaccinated
  • 13 (26.5 per cent) are unvaccinated

There are also two other groups of people in hospital who have COVID-19:

  • 125 people who were identified as positive upon arrival at hospital but were admitted for another medical reason, or were admitted for COVID-19 but no longer require specialized care
  • 178 people who contracted COVID-19 after being admitted to hospital

CASES AND TESTING

On Tuesday, Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) labs completed 1,617 tests. The province is reporting an additional 200 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Of the new cases:

  • 63 are in the Central Zone
  • 52 are in the Eastern Zone
  • 39 are in the Northern Zone
  • 46 are in the Western Zone

Currently, health officials estimate there are 1,898 active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

VACCINE UPDATE

As of Tuesday, 2,206,101 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.

Of those, 92.1 per cent of Nova Scotians have received their first dose, and 86.4 per cent have received their second dose.

As well, 61.8 per cent of Nova Scotians 18 and older have received a booster dose, and 0.8 per cent have booked a booster dose appointment.

Public health says less than 10 per cent of Nova Scotians are unvaccinated.

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