HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health says he should never have granted a travel exemption to three Irving Shipbuilding executives so they could travel to the United States.

The exemption, which was granted in June, allowed them to enter the U.S. for business related to the national shipbuilding contract without having to self-isolate upon their return to Nova Scotia.

After health concerns were raised by the union, Dr. Robert Strang says he reviewed the plan and revoked the exemption on Wednesday.

“There are cases where specialized skills are required, and as long as proper public health protocol is developed in these cases, I will approve those. We do need to keep the economy going,” said Strang during a news conference in Halifax on Thursday.

“I looked at the Irving situation with the same lens, but after a number of concerns were raised, I took a second look and I realized I should not have approved the plan as it was.”

Strang says he was approached by Irving Shipbuilding and they provided rationale as to why they felt it was necessary to conduct the meetings in person.

“That’s why at the time I said yes and put in the appropriate protocols, but on review of some concerns, especially about some of the challenges perhaps of adhering to those protocols, I reversed that decision,” he said.

Strang says, over the last four months, he has approved several plans to allow essential workers to enter the province to do work that requires specialized skills.

“I’ve worked with each of those companies to draft very specific plans that follow public health protocols and ensure we have necessary COVID safety,” he said.

“In fact, I’ve said no to a number of plans and even turned around a planeload of workers who were in the air about to land in Nova Scotia because I couldn’t approve the plan because it didn’t provide the right level of COVID safety.”

Strang says safety requirements were part of the approval process for Irving Shipbuilding, but he acknowledges that the meetings could have been held virtually, and the executives can now work from home.

“Upon return the individuals involved can isolate at home and still manage to work,” he said. “That’s why I revoked my initial exception and reversed that decision. The executives are now isolating at home and Irving has been fully cooperative.”

In addition to the self-isolation order, Strang has also asked for assurances that the individuals have been tested for COVID-19.

Strang says he will continue to make exceptions for certain specialized labourers and essential workers on a case-by-case basis.

“I want Nova Scotians to understand that the lens that I put on this is appropriate protection of your health and safety and I will only approve plans if the necessary COVID safety protocols are in place,” he said.

However, Strang says there will be no further company travel to or from the U.S. for employees of Irving Shipbuilding.