CHARLOTTETOWN — Residents of Prince Edward Island can expect to see a return of a few signs of normal life in the coming weeks, officials said Wednesday, as the province plans to ease some public health measures imposed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canada's smallest province again reported no new cases of COVID-19, leaving the provincial total at just 26, with 24 of those patients recovered.
The province's chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, said easing the province back open — set to begin in early May — will be a "delicate balance," starting with some outdoor activities and some elective surgeries.
"Although we relax in one sense, we're also making sure we have ongoing, really tight measures at our entry points into Prince Edward Island, and of course long-term care facilities, really wanting to protect our vulnerable populations and not wanting to overwhelm our health system," she said.
Currently, mass gatherings on the Island can't be any larger than five people who are not members of the same household. Morrison said that will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
Premier Dennis King said his province is in the fortunate position of considering an ease-back because residents are doing such a good job of observing public health guidelines.
Meanwhile, Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced Wednesday the lobster fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence will open on May 15 — about two weeks later than usual.
Morrison said there will be rules in place to allow staff to safely work on the boats and in processing plants. She said those guidelines should be ready by the end of this week.
The situation in P.E.I. is in stark contrast to neighbouring Nova Scotia, which reported two more deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, raising the total fatalities in the province to 12.
Both deaths were at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax.
"My heart goes out to everyone at Northwood at this time and we are working very closely with our partners to continue to implement an emergency plan to help bring this virus under control at the facility," said Premier Stephen McNeil.
The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) issued a release Wednesday describing conditions at Northwood as "horrible" and claiming a lack of basic infection control protocols.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, disputed the union's claims but admitted there are "significant challenges" at Northwood.
"They needed help and help was brought in," said Strang.
He said legitimate concerns around staffing are being addressed, but said there was no validity to the union's concerns around infection control.
"They are using frankly, fear-mongering and hyperbole in terms of the way they are describing this situation," he said. "I challenge the NSGEU to not scare people unnecessarily. They are creating fear and anxiety where it's not necessary, and that's inappropriate."
Strang urged the union to settle its concerns "at the table" with the rest of the health-care system.
He again said that Northwood is driving the rise in numbers of confirmed cases in the province.
"There are a significant proportion of our cases right now that are coming from the Northwood outbreak," Strang said.
Nova Scotia reported 35 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the provincial total to 772.
New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador each reported no new cases.
— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton, with files from Keith Doucette in Halifax.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2020.
The Canadian Press