HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia will move into Phase 5 of the province's COVID-19 reopening plan on Sept. 15, lifting mandatory masking and gathering limits, Premier Tim Houston announced Wednesday.

“While Phase 5 will remove most restrictions, we can’t ignore the impact of the fourth wave and the impact that the Delta variant is having across the world and the country. That’s why we’ll continue to push messages that encourage vaccination," said Houston during Wednesday's news update.

Provincial health officials had previously announced the target date of Sept. 15 with the contingency that 75 per cent of the overall population received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine. As of Wednesday, 71.7 per cent of the overall population has received two doses.

“Almost 80 per cent of Nova Scotians have gotten their first dose of vaccine, and we’re very close to reaching our target of 75 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated with two doses. Close enough that I feel comfortable that we will reach that target and be able to move into phase five on Sept. 15," added Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health.

As of Sept. 15 at 12:01 a.m., masking in indoor places and physical distancing will no longer be mandatory, and there will be no gathering limits.

While masking will no longer be mandatory, Strang says the province strongly recommends that people voluntarily wear their mask indoors, especially while in close contact with others.

Health care facilities, businesses and other organizations will continue to set their own policies for masks and visitation.

Masks will be required in schools until Monday, September 20, to allow students, staff and teachers time to transition to Phase 5.

“Make no mistake, required masking will also be one of the first measures brought back if cases rise in a certain area or setting,” said Strang on Wednesday.

Border measures will remain in place, with self-isolation and testing required for any non fully-vaccinated individuals entering the province from outside Newfoundland and P.E.I.

PROOF OF VACCINATION POLICY

As of Oct. 4, the province will also start requiring proof of full vaccination for Nova Scotians ages 12 and older to participate in discretionary, recreational or non-essential activities such as dining out, going to a fitness facility, or going to a movie, theatre performance, concert or sporting event.

“Requiring proof of vaccination to participate in activities that are discretionary or nonessential, means we are able to bring larger groups of people together safely,” said Strang.

The proof of vaccination requirement does not apply to children 11 years of age and under, and they will be allowed to attend these activities with a fully vaccinated adult. 

This is a developing story and will be updated.