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After months of some of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the world, Canada’s four Eastern provinces are putting up new barriers to travel in their fight against a second wave of the disease that until a few days ago looked under control.

Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, alarmed by rising rates in neighbouring provinces, are taking a two-week pause from the much-celebrated “Atlantic bubble” pact. That agreement had allowed visiting residents from the Atlantic region to travel freely since July, while anyone entering from other parts of Canada and internationally had to quarantine for 14 days.

Newfoundland Premier Andrew Furey said the Atlantic bubble has been a source of pride for the region, and widely credited with keeping the pandemic at bay, but the situation has changed rapidly. Starting at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, all those entering his province except for essential workers will be required to complete a two-week quarantine period.

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“I have made the tough decision to implement a circuit break,” he said. “This is an effort to avoid a full lockdown. For weeks now, we have watched the pandemic gain momentum across the mainland.”

The rising number of cases will test the region’s rigid public-health measures that until now have been effective in holding back a virus spreading dramatically through many other parts of Canada and the United States.

COVID-19 case rates across Canada

Seven-day moving average of confirmed cases per 100,000 population, as of Nov. 22

B.C.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

ALTA.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

SASK.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

MAN.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

ONT.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

QUE.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

N.B.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

N.S.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

PEI

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

N.L.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

Note: the Territories have seen low case numbers since the spring, however a recent outbreak in Nunavut has led to 130 total cases.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS

COVID-19 case rates across Canada

Seven-day moving average of confirmed cases per 100,000 population, as of Nov. 22

B.C.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

ALTA.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

SASK.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

MAN.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

ONT.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

QUE.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

N.B.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

N.S.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

PEI

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

N.L.

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

Note: the Territories have seen low case numbers since the spring, however a recent outbreak in Nunavut has led to 130 total cases.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS

COVID-19 case rates across Canada

Seven-day moving average of confirmed cases per 100,000 population, as of Nov. 22

B.C.

ALTA.

30

30

25

25

20

20

15

15

10

10

5

5

0

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

SASK.

MAN.

30

30

25

25

20

20

15

15

10

10

5

5

0

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

ONT.

QUE.

30

30

25

25

20

20

15

15

10

10

5

5

0

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

N.B.

N.S.

30

30

25

25

20

20

15

15

10

10

5

5

0

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

PEI

N.L.

30

30

25

25

20

20

15

15

10

10

5

5

0

0

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

March

May

July

Sept.

Nov.

Note: the Territories have seen low case numbers since the spring, however a recent outbreak in Nunavut has led to 130 total cases.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS

Concern began growing last week as cases climbed in several hot spots, many traced back to travel outside the region. New Brunswick reported 15 new cases Monday, bringing total active cases in the province to 92 – the most since the outbreak began. Nova Scotia, struggling with viral spread in the Halifax region, has 55 total active cases, while Newfoundland reported 21. PEI said it had three cases.

“Our worry with COVID from the beginning has been our size,” said PEI Premier Dennis King, whose province’s entrance restrictions kicked in just after midnight Monday. “We have a health system that is strong and that is ready, but it also has limitations. With the potential of a large outbreak that we’ve seen in other jurisdictions … we could very easily be overwhelmed.”

In New Brunswick, which set a single-day high for new cases with 23 on Saturday, some schools and businesses closed down out of precaution while two of the province’s largest cities, Saint John and Moncton, went under strict limits on gathering. The new rules allow for outdoor gatherings with physical distancing of 25 people or fewer and recreational team practices but no games. Residents are also being told to limit their physical interaction in their homes to people they live with.

New Brunswick public-health officials have urged people not to travel between zones within the province, and enforcement officers have been ticketing those found in public places without wearing masks or physical distancing. More than 30 fines were issued over the weekend, Premier Blaine Higgs said.

New Brunswick, which reported its sixth coronavirus death Monday, is now enforcing a “one household bubble” in the Moncton and Saint John regions, requiring groups wishing to sit together in a restaurant to show ID to prove they live at the same address, he added.

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The province’s Education Minister also said he’s prepared to move classrooms to online learning if more schools confirm cases. So far, five schools have announced either confirmed or suspected cases of an infected person. People here are also being urged to hold off on holiday visiting until the number of new cases decline.

“Please cancel your plans, please don’t host gatherings,” said Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer. “Everyone should stay home as much as they can. ... We need to break the chain of contact in order to reduce the spread.”

Officials in Nova Scotia, which confirmed 11 new cases on Monday, have focused on the role of young people in spreading the disease, blaming bar-goers and house parties for the province’s uptick in cases. They’ve published a growing list of potential exposure sites, all in the Halifax area, many of which are bars and restaurants.

A new rapid COVID-19 testing site opened in an empty Halifax nightclub Saturday, a day after provincial Chief Medical Officer Robert Strang said social activity among 18- to 35-year-olds was driving Nova Scotia’s viral spread. The Nova Scotia Health Authority has stopped hospital visits in the Halifax region in response to the new cases.

While Nova Scotia and New Brunswick didn’t remove quarantine exemptions for visitors from the Atlantic provinces, both premiers asked residents for “extra caution” on non-essential travel in the region, and agreed to monitor the situation closely over the next two weeks.

Mr. Higgs said New Brunswick is also increasing enforcement at its borders with Maine and Quebec, and promised to address the unique challenge of Campobello Island. Residents of the southwestern New Brunswick community, which straddles the border with Maine, say they’ve been denied medical services on the mainland because they’ve travelled through the United States to get there.

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The small island, with a population of around 900, has three reported cases of COVID-19. The virus is boosting support for a year-round ferry to Canada, which would allow residents to avoid travelling through Maine, where cases are spiking, for basic needs such as gas, groceries and hospital visits.

Anxiety is building with the island’s seasonal ferry service set to end Dec. 1.

“People are freaking out,” said Ulysse Robichaud, a Campobello resident. “It’s going to look like a cruise ship here pretty soon. This is a major public-health issue.”

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