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Nova Scotia legislature moves to hybrid sitting following COVID-19 outbreak

HALIFAX — Nearly two weeks after it opened for its spring sitting, the Nova Scotia legislature is scaling back to a hybrid sitting because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
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Nova Scotia Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc reads the speech from throne at Province House in Halifax on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX — Nearly two weeks after it opened for its spring sitting, the Nova Scotia legislature is scaling back to a hybrid sitting because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The change does not limit the number of members who can attend in person, but it gives members the option of participating via video link.

Kim Masland, the Progressive Conservative government’s house leader, told the legislature Tuesday that a quorum for in-person proceedings will constitute 15 of the 55 members, including the Speaker. Masland said the hybrid option will be used for the rest of the sitting.

Outside the chamber, she said the intent is to allow members who are sick to participate from home if they're able.

“If the member is well enough to appear virtually, I think that’s what Nova Scotians want,” said Masland, who added it’s her expectation that Tory caucus members who are not ill will attend in person.

“But we’re all adults here,” she said. “No one is going to be checking up on everyone to see exactly why they are away.”

As of late last week, as many as six members and staff had reportedly been sidelined after contracting COVID-19. There was no update Tuesday on whether that number has changed.

A hybrid model was also used by the legislature last spring when provincial gathering limits were still in effect. The rules set a limit of only three members in the house from each party with physical distancing and masking.

Masks have been worn at the request of the Speaker since the legislature resumed business on March 24. However, the province lifted its indoor mask mandate for most public settings on March 21 and moved from daily to weekly reporting of COVID-19 data on March 10.

The Opposition Liberals used most of question period Tuesday to grill the government on the wisdom of reporting less when COVID-19 is once again surging in the province.

Last Thursday’s weekly update reported an additional 10 deaths and 4,188 positive lab PCR tests from March 23-30, for an average of 598 new cases per day.

Data released Monday and Tuesday by Nova Scotia’s health authority indicated that 262 patients were in hospital with the disease, with 10 of those patients in intensive care. A total of 624 health-care staff were off the job across the province as a result of exposure or illness.

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said there isn’t enough day-to-day information for the public to make informed decisions on what precautions they should take. He said he tried to get information on the testing positivity rate during question period.

“My understanding is it’s the highest it’s ever been, so the challenge when you don’t have COVID-19 briefings is that you are not able to get that information,” Rankin told reporters.

Premier Tim Houston said the government is not averse to changing course because the pandemic is “unpredictable,” but he added that no changes are currently contemplated. He also disagreed that information is lacking.

“A great deal of information is provided by the province, and we will continue to fine-tune,” Houston said. “People also have a lot of information through their own social circumstances, either anecdotal or otherwise.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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