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Nova Scotia at 'critical' turning point in COVID-19 pandemic: chief medical officer

HALIFAX — Two days into a provincewide lockdown, Nova Scotians are at a crucial turning point, the province’s chief medical officer of health warned Thursday.

Dr. Robert Strang reported 70 new cases and said what happens next could go “one of two ways.” Nova Scotians’ collective actions, he said, will determine the path to come.

“Either we get things under control now and we can loosen restrictions as we head into the summer, or we don’t,” he told reporters. “We need to closely follow the restrictions. It’s critical — lives, jobs, businesses and our health-care system are all at stake.”

Strang said 14 people are in hospital with the disease, including four in intensive care. The province has 548 active reported infections. 

The majority of the new cases reported Thursday were in the Halifax area, with 59. Nine of the remaining cases were in the province’s eastern health region and two were in the northern region.

Strang said 4,909 people have been identified as high-risk contacts and are self-isolating for two weeks. He added that hundreds, if not thousands, more people have had lower-risk exposures, particularly in the Halifax area. 

Those deemed at lowest risk need to get tested, Strang said, adding that people who experienced moderate-risk exposures need to isolate until they test negative.

“So there are large numbers of people who are impacted by this and having even further restrictions on their lives because of known or possible exposures,” he said.

Community spread has been detected in the Halifax area, but Strang said that’s not the case in other areas of the province.

He said many of the cases recently identified outside the Halifax area involve returning travellers, including rotational workers and foreign workers who are quarantining, while he said the other cases involve close contacts of previously reported infections.

“So we are not seeing signs of community spread outside the Halifax area,” Strang said. “Every day we keep it that way … is a day forward and good news.”

The province reported 75 new cases on Wednesday, slightly down from the record single-day high of 96 cases on Tuesday.

Under the lockdown — scheduled to last until at least May 12 — all schools and non-essential indoor services and businesses are closed, while indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to household bubbles. Residents are prohibited from leaving their communities, except for essential travel. 

Premier Iain Rankin told the business community that he understands the ongoing cycle of closures and openings has left livelihoods at stake. He assured businesses that his government is working on a support package but couldn’t say when the assistance would be ready.

“There is a cash flow shortage, obviously, and we are going to try to look at how we fill the gaps,” he said about businesses across the province.

Health officials said that as of Wednesday, the province had administered 304,187 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 35,994 people having received a booster shot.

Rankin said further details on the province’s vaccine plan will be released Friday, when the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine becomes available to people 40 to 54 years old.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press