HALIFAX -- The Nova Scotia government is moving ahead with plans to further reopen the province now that it hasn't reported a case of COVID-19 in the past 17 days.

However, Premier Stephen McNeil warned Friday that with limits being raised on how many people can gather at bars, restaurants and organized events, the risk of a resurgence in infections was also increasing.

As a result, the province has issued an emphatic recommendation for residents to wear non-medical masks when physical distancing among strangers becomes difficult.

McNeil said Nova Scotians must get in the habit of wearing a mask, noting that he has had to change his own habits.

"Even when I saw others wearing them, I didn't always wear one myself," he told a virtual news conference.

"I've had to rethink this and do a bit of soul-searching. After all, when someone is wearing a mask, they are protecting me and others. So I need to do the same for them."

The premier then offered a slogan of sorts to promote the use of masks.

"Don't think of it as a task. When in doubt, wear a mask."

The province's previous advice was to ask residents to "consider" wearing a mask when physical distancing couldn't be maintained.

But the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, said he wants to "normalize" the wearing of masks to reduce the inherent risks that come with allowing larger gatherings.

As examples, Strang said masks should be worn when entering grocery stores or malls, using public transit or at public gatherings with limited space.

"Wearing a mask is a way of showing that we care about other people," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2020.