COVID-19 restrictions in N.S. for the holidays: How different are they 1 year later?

Nova Scotians are about to mark their second pandemic holiday season, but instead of Christmas, it’s feeling more like Groundhog Day.

This week, new COVID-19 restrictions were announced for the province, after the Omicron variant was identified in a growing outbreak that stemmed from graduation events at St. Francis Xavier University.

Read more: Omicron is raging in the U.K. What can Canada learn?

“The timing is horrible but let’s not blame one another and point fingers. It won’t do us any good,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang on Monday, during a COVID-19 briefing with Premier Tim Houston.

“Omicron is here and we have to adjust.”

Public schools will begin their winter break early. The last day before the holidays for most students will be this Friday, as opposed to next Tuesday as originally scheduled.

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Education Minister Becky Druhan said the decision was made because of the “operational impacts” from the Omicron variant and the need for close contacts to self-isolate.

Winter break had already been extended by two days, and students are set to return on Jan. 6, 2022 — however, Druhan said the education department will continue to monitor the pandemic and consult public health before schools open.

Another holiday season, another set of restrictions

As of Friday, physical distancing is back – both indoors and outdoors. Unless those around you are in your household or a consistent social group of 20 people, expect to interact with them two metres away.

“Twenty is plenty,” Houston repeated several times on Monday.

Restaurants will have to distance tables, and diners can only remove their masks for eating and drinking while seated.

Read more: ‘It just doesn’t make sense’ – N.S. businesses brace for impact of new restrictions

Speaking of masks, they’ll be required in workplaces where physical distancing “cannot be achieved” and in “areas of poor ventilation.”

The gathering limit, including holiday dinners, is now 20 people.

Social gatherings such as weddings and funerals can have 50 per cent capacity to a maximum of 150 people indoors and 250 people outdoors.

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Sports and arts can have a limit of 60 participants, although competitions and tournaments are not allowed.

And long-term care homes will have a limit of two visitors at a time per resident.

“Visitors can have quick close contact like a hug but then need to stay physically distanced for the rest of the visit,” the province wrote in a news release.

All this was prompted by triple-digit daily new case numbers, driven by the outbreak at St. FX.

Read more: N.S. premier calls out Halifax Mooseheads for changing game date to beat COVID-19 rules

While the restrictions are disheartening for a province that is “tired” and “fatigued” by COVID protocols, in Strang’s words, they’re also a stark difference from the rules in place one year ago.

On Dec. 16, 2020, Strang and then-premier Stephen McNeil ushered in new holiday restrictions as the province announced four new cases of COVID-19.

The active total at the time was 55. That’s compared to the current active total of at least 516, although the province’s dashboard points out that delays in data entry mean “this is an underestimation of case numbers.”

Back in December 2020, Halifax Regional Municipality and Hants County were under tighter restrictions due to an outbreak. Restaurants in those areas were closed to dine-in service until January.

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Meanwhile, the entire province was only allowed 10 people total for at-home gatherings, and wedding and funeral receptions were not permitted at all.

Stores and malls could only operate at 25 per cent capacity.

Sports and arts rehearsals were limited to 25 participants, while tournaments and performances were not allowed.

Click to play video: 'Pressure mounts to make COVID-19 rapid testing more accessible amid Omicron'

2:16 Pressure mounts to make COVID-19 rapid testing more accessible amid Omicron

Pressure mounts to make COVID-19 rapid testing more accessible amid Omicron

So what changed?

The differences in the pandemic situation this year from last extend well past the pages on the calendar.

There were stringent travel restrictions and self-isolation requirements in place in 2020, and the border with the U.S. was still closed.

The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had only just arrived in Canada.

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On Dec. 16, 2020, the first Pfizer immunization clinic was held in Nova Scotia, prioritizing health-care workers.

“The last nine months have been a little doom and gloom,” said Dr. Stephen Miller, one of the first vaccine recipients on that day.

“Everything took on a bit of a different light today, it was kind of exciting.”

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia ramping up COVID-19 vaccinations for children, boosters for others'

1:56 Nova Scotia ramping up COVID-19 vaccinations for children, boosters for others

Nova Scotia ramping up COVID-19 vaccinations for children, boosters for others

Since then, nearly 1.7 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the province.

When asked on Monday whether the province’s current situation is part of the “evolution of the pandemic,” Strang said it was indeed.

But he qualified that by saying vaccines – and our province’s high vaccination rate – is what allows Nova Scotians to have relatively few restrictions.

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“We can be perhaps not as acutely worried because of vaccines,” said Strang.

“Vaccines is what allows us to be in this position, so anybody who doubts the importance of vaccines better give their head a good shake.”

While seemingly optimistic, Strang admitted the next hurdle will be difficult for Nova Scotians. He said he was well aware people are tired and “just want to get on with life.”

“If we don’t respond yet again, this has the potential to have significant negative impacts,” he said Monday.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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