HALIFAX - Nova Scotia is delaying the final phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan until early next month because a fourth wave of the novel coronavirus has hit the province and the rest of the Maritimes.
Phase 5 was scheduled to be implemented Wednesday but Health Minister Michelle Thompson said the plan would be delayed until at least Oct. 4.
"It is better to keep the status quo for a little while longer than to ignore these cases and move into the next phase," Thompson told reporters on Tuesday. Reopening before early October, she said, "could mean bringing in far tougher restrictions later and slipping backward and no one wants that."
Health officials reported 66 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, including 61 in the northern zone, with two related to travel and 59 involving close contacts of previously reported infections. They said there is a large cluster of cases in the region involving a group of people who are largely unvaccinated.
Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said officials were monitoring a cluster of cases in the northern zone to ensure there is no further spread beyond the area affected. He said the community was co-operating with health officials but declined to provide further details, saying he wanted to avoid stigmatization.
The five remaining cases were in the Halifax area, where Strang said there were signs of community spread among people aged 20 to 40 who are unvaccinated and participating in social activities.
Nova Scotia has 173 active reported cases and four people in hospital with the disease.
Health officials haven't announced any cases associated with public schools, which welcomed back students on Sept. 7. Masks will be required in schools at least until Oct. 4.
As of Tuesday, 72.7 per cent of the population had been fully vaccinated. Premier Tim Houston had previously said the province would move to Phase 5 when 75 per cent of all Nova Scotians were fully vaccinated, adding that the target was "very firm."
Strang said the fourth wave is mostly hitting people who have not received both vaccine doses. "A fourth wave is hitting Atlantic Canada and as we've seen elsewhere, it's having much more of an impact on those who are not vaccinated," he said. "I am not comfortable moving into Phase 5 just yet."
He said it would be "far better" to wait until the government is ready to implement its "proof-of-vaccine policy."
That policy, also set for Oct. 4, would allow fully vaccinated residents to participate in activities the government deems non-essential. People 12 and older would have to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 to go to restaurants, gyms, theatres, concerts and sporting events.
Once implemented, the last phase of the province's five-step recovery plan would see the removal of most of the public health measures that have been in place since the onset of the pandemic, such as indoor masking and gathering limits.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2021.