Experts and disability advocate warn Nova Scotia of reopening too quickly, while others say move is ‘great’ – Halifax

Halifax-area disability advocate and photographer Paul Vienneau felt “suspicious” upon hearing that Nova Scotia would lift all COVID-19 restrictions on March 21.

“It’s a bit like the government putting us all in a little room and then pulling us back and closing the door,” he said in an interview.

Although immune-compromised himself, Vienneau also worries about his aging parents, who have underlying health issues.

“Honestly, I don’t know if the masks should be here to stay, but… I don’t feel comfortable sweeping this all away so abruptly after everything we’ve been through,” he says. “If we take the genie out of the bottle and go put it back in and put the cork back on, I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do that.”

Prime Minister Tim Houston called it a ‘back to normal’ when announcing the plan on Wednesday, and acknowledged the ‘divided’ environment the world finds itself in, which has recently seen protests over mandates of COVID-19.

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“No matter what emotions you’re feeling right now, we can all agree that it’s been a long, long run,” Houston said.

He said “assuming everything stays on track” restrictions will slowly start to ease, with all restrictions due to be lifted by March 21.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer, says that while the mask mandate will be lifted, he still recommends people wear them.

The requirement for proof of vaccination for non-essential or “discretionary” activities and events is lifted on Monday.

Experts warn the move is too fast

While easing restrictions as the COVID-19 situation improves may be a good thing, some experts warn Nova Scotia’s moves are happening too quickly.

“Vaccines, masks… we can’t let go of the accelerator for that. We still need it,” says Montreal-based cardiologist and epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos. “And we can adjust our policies in the future, but to completely get rid of all measures, when there’s still a lot of COVID circulating, when there’s a very real risk of a future variant, I think it’s a potentially very problematic thing.”

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Dr. Colin Furness, a Toronto-based infection control epidemiologist, says his biggest concern is the removal of mask mandates, especially in classrooms.

“This is a new era of do-it-yourself public health,” he says.

For people uncomfortable with the pace of things, wearing an N95 or KN95 mask will help.

“These types of masks are very effective in protecting the wearer,” as long as they fit properly, he says.

“There are a lot of people – say, everyone under the age of five, people with weakened immune systems, older people – there are a lot of people who have a lot to worry about,” says Furness.

“And so what we’re saying with the easing of these restrictions is not that the pandemic is over, (but) it’s every man for himself and it’s not great public health policy. Obviously we can’t wear masks until the end of time, but I think it’s too soon.

Others eager to “take that step forward”

People who agreed to speak to Global News on Quinpool Road in Halifax on Thursday might have reservations, but in general appear to be in favor of the move.

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“I think now is the time to take that step forward,” says Don Fisher.

Leonard Liu, a student in Halifax, said he was “a little worried, but… I can’t draw conclusions right now, so let’s see”.

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“Personally, I think it’s great,” says Noah Tye. “I’m a musician so I’m pretty happy to have some form of normality back.”

“I think Nova Scotia has done a great job and it’s time for us to come alive again,” said Laura Burke.

“I’m happy, a little worried, but overall, I’m happy,” says George-Anne Merrill. “But I will always wear my mask.”

— with files by Rebecca Lau

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