HALIFAX — A rapid surge in COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia has led to a provincewide shutdown after health officials reported a record 96 cases on Tuesday.
Premier Iain Rankin said that as of Wednesday at 8 a.m., all schools and non-essential indoor services will be closed across the province for the next two weeks.
"COVID-19 and its variants are on the move and spreading faster than ever before," Rankin told reporters. "COVID is in every region of our province and it doesn't want to seem to slow down."
The premier said the closures affect malls, gyms, retail stores, bars and restaurants, although curbside pickup and takeout will be allowed.
Nova Scotia reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases for the third consecutive day; officials reported 66 cases on Monday and 63 on Sunday.
Ninety of the new cases were identified in the Halifax area. Another three were reported in the province's eastern zone, two in the western zone and one in the northern zone. The province has 419 active reported infections.
"We need to act now," chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang told reporters. "We cannot be chasing this virus. We have to be ahead of it to protect Nova Scotians, our health-care system and our vaccine rollout."
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the military will deploy 60 service members to assist at COVID-19 testing centres in Nova Scotia. Trudeau said the province requested the aid because of the rapid rise in cases, particularly in the Halifax area.
The military says personnel from Royal Canadian Navy ships and Canadian Army units based in Nova Scotia have been assigned to this task.
Under the provincewide lockdown, households of two or fewer members can socialize with one or two other people but they must be the same people for the two-week period.
Travel is restricted between communities unless it's for such things as work or medical appointments. Grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies can remain open at 25 per cent capacity. All daycares can stay open as long as staff, visitors and children over two years old wear masks.
Strang said several cases had been identified at daycares in Halifax.
Meanwhile, the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax announced on its website it had received confirmation of one presumptive case of COVID-19 involving a staff member who is in isolation. It said the virus was contracted in the community.
An outbreak at the facility last spring led to the death of 53 residents — Nova Scotia has seen a total of 67 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.
Strang said with most residents in Northwood and other long term care homes already vaccinated, he's less concerned about the development. "I'm not complacent but it gives me the least anxiety of all the situations we are dealing with," he said.
Health officials imposed a lockdown in the Halifax area last week and had already closed all the schools in the region for the next two weeks.
In Sydney, parent Amanda Carroll had already decided to keep her two children home this week because of an increase in cases in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Carroll has a five-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter who attends Sydney Academy.
Despite case numbers that are still significantly lower than those in the Halifax area, Carroll said in an interview she feels "completely uneasy."
"Our numbers are going the wrong way," she said. "And while they (health officials) don't see community spread here yet, I feel like it's only a matter of a few days before they do."
Cape Breton Mayor Amanda McDougall said in an interview that while she senses unease in her community, she's reassured by the number of people who have been turning out to get tested.
"We're getting the data that is required by the province to make decisions on restrictions going forward so that is a good thing," McDougall said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Previous version said military staff would come from 14 Wing Greenwood.