Premiers to discuss reopening of ‘Atlantic bubble’ as tourist season approaches

Premiers to discuss reopening of 'Atlantic bubble' as tourist season approaches

Alex Copp, Manager of Lawrencetown Surf Co., in the Lawrencetown, NS store on March 16, 2021.

Darren Calabrese / Le Globe and Mail

Atlantic Canadian Premiers will discuss a temporary reopening of provincial borders on Wednesday evening later this spring, fueling hopes of a much-anticipated return of an “Atlantic bubble” that has allowed East Coast businesses to save. a tourist season in 2020.

But in the region’s $ 5 billion hospitality sector, where the summer months can make or break a season, the bigger question is when travelers from other parts of the country might be allowed in. enter without restrictions. As the number of COVID-19 vaccinations increases across the country, many people hoping to visit Atlantic Canada are waiting and wondering.

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At Lawrencetown Surf Co. outside of Halifax, where out-of-province visitors normally make up a large part of their surf school’s business, principal Alex Copp hopes to see more travelers this summer.

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“It would be huge for us if they lifted the bubble and opened the province to foreigners,” he said. “This year, we really hope they can open things up. We are ready if we get this influx. It just comes down to an employment strategy, because we would need a lot more instructors.

Last year, the residents of staycations helped the store’s East Coast Surf School have a good year – but they don’t expect them to be able to maintain those numbers for a second year in a row, though Borders remain closed.

A man stands on the bluff in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia on March 16, 2021.

Darren Calabrese / Le Globe and Mail

One of Atlantic Canada’s foremost epidemiologists says it is too early to know how vaccine deployment may evolve and how that will affect the risk of allowing more visitors to enter the region. She suggests that even fully vaccinated travelers from Ontario or Quebec who hope to visit this summer should still allow for a 14-day quarantine period upon arrival.

“We’ve seen what happens when people make policies based on what they would like versus what the evidence tells them. I’m all for evidence-based decisions, ”said Susan Kirkland, Head of the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“We can get to a point where we can open up the provinces to the rest of Canada, but it has to be done in a very, very controlled way.

After closing their borders at the start of the pandemic last spring, the four eastern provinces created an Atlantic bubble in July that allowed its residents to travel freely without needing to isolate themselves. That deal collapsed in November when cases started to climb again in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The region’s premiers are under enormous pressure to reopen these borders in order to throw a lifeline to their tourism and hospitality industries. The pandemic has drained about $ 3 billion in revenue from these sectors, according to the Atlantic Canada Chamber of Commerce. Some hotels said bookings were down 90%.

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A person walks through the lobby of the Cambridge Suites hotel in Halifax on March 16, 2021.

Darren Calabrese / Le Globe and Mail

New concerns over variants of the coronavirus complicate the decision of the premiers, which sparked the rapid epidemic that upended the election in Newfoundland and Labrador last month. But Dr Kirkland said the most important factor is how quickly provinces are able to immunize their citizens – noting that none have yet announced plans to immunize children under 16.

The eastern provinces have ramped up their adult vaccination plans and say most residents should be able to receive their first dose by the end of June. Prince Edward Island already offers the vaccine to 18-29 year olds who work at gas stations and grocery stores, while Nova Scotia uses pharmacies to vaccinate as many people as possible in most areas. promptly.

In seaside tourist towns like Shediac, New Brunswick, where thousands of people normally flock in the summer for the annual lobster festival and the soft sands of Parlee Beach, it is hoped that visitors from other parts of Canada can return soon, provided they can travel safely.

“Can that happen this summer?” The virus will determine that, ”said Shediac Mayor Roger Caissie. “Nobody expects it to be like it was in 2019 or 2018, but at least we see there is hope.”

Diners eat in a shelter meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 at a waterfront restaurant in Halifax on March 16, 2021.

Darren Calabrese / Le Globe and Mail

A full Atlantic bubble season in 2021 would help the city’s tourism businesses, he said. But he suspects it will be 2022 before Shediac can expect the caravan of tour buses and out-of-province cars crowding its main street.

Most businesses want regional borders to reopen, said Sheri Somerville, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Chamber of Commerce. They also need clarity as soon as possible from the provinces to better plan for the summer months, she said. To wait again until midsummer would be “devastating,” she said.

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As for reopening to the rest of the country, some are taking a wait-and-see approach for 2021, she said.

“I think it’s still early days,” Ms. Somerville said. “Right now they are focusing on the Atlantic bubble. … I think if our cases remain low and vaccines are in place, then people would seek to open those borders.

Dr Kirkland, meanwhile, warned against a quick reopening in the interest of reviving the economy. There is a lot of evidence that people vaccinated can still transmit COVID-19, she said, and “it is not a good idea” to consider allowing people with just a single dose of the vaccine. to travel freely without quarantine.

A closed patio at a waterfront restaurant in Halifax on March 16, 2021.

Darren Calabrese / Le Globe and Mail

Atlantic Canada was able to limit infections during the pandemic by adopting strong public health measures and adapting as needed, she said. Changing that approach now seems unnecessarily risky, she said.

“We were able to stay in control for that long and avoid many of the deaths that many other provinces have seen. It would be devastating in the end, when the end is in sight, to suddenly see high death rates, ”said Dr. Kirkland.

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