ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Newfoundland and Labrador is moving to the second step of its reopening plan two weeks ahead of schedule, while New Brunswick is abandoning all public health restrictions at midnight Friday.

Both provinces are reporting more than 80 per cent of residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but New Brunswick says 67 per cent of residents aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, compared with 52 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief public health doctor told reporters Friday that though vaccination levels are higher than expected and still climbing, she is still concerned about the 17 per cent of eligible residents who haven't yet received a first dose.

"We have a way to be able to protect ourselves," Janice Fitzgerald told reporters in St. John's. "And that's to get vaccinated ... that is the best tool we have in our tool box right now to keep us all safe." The province reported no new cases of COVID-19 Friday.

Data from the province's Department of Health shows the lowest rates of vaccination are among young people living outside St. John's and the surrounding eastern region of the province. Sixty per cent of residents in their 20s in the central region of the province has received their first dose of vaccine, compared with 73 per cent in the eastern region.

Fitzgerald said her department is working closely with regional health authorities to make vaccines more accessible to young people.

"Get out there, get your vaccines if you haven't already done so, and encourage your friends to get their vaccines, if they haven't already done so," she said.

Beginning Sunday, the province will move to the second stage of its post-pandemic recovery plan, she said, noting the move comes two weeks ahead of the original schedule. That means partially vaccinated travellers from Canada will no longer have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, nor will they have to self-isolate.

Outdoor gatherings of up to 500 people and indoor gatherings of up to 350 people, with physical distancing, will be allowed. Mandatory mask requirements will remain in place, but will be up for review during the week of Aug. 9, Fitzgerald said.

By contrast, New Brunswickers were set to enjoy their first weekend free of public health restrictions since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in the spring of 2020. As of 11:59 p.m. Friday night, masks will no longer be mandatory in public spaces, restrictions on travel will lift and there will be no limits to how many people can gather indoors or outdoors.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said patients, staff and visitors in all hospitals and health-care facilities will have to continue to wear masks to reduce the risk of transmission within the health-care system. The province reported seven new cases of COVID-19 Friday.

Health officials in Nova Scotia reported one new infection, while 68 per cent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, a website run by volunteers who compile data released by federal and provincial health authorities. The Nova Scotia government only publishes vaccination rates for the province's entire population as opposed to the eligible population.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2021.