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Nova Scotia's new premier, Iain Rankin, departs from his first COVID-19 news conference, in Halifax, Feb. 24, 2021.

Tim Krochak/The Canadian Press

Three out of four Atlantic provinces announced this morning they will lift border restrictions and open to travel from across the region beginning next week.

Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador say the June 23 reopening is possible because of steadily declining COVID-19 rates across the region, and New Brunswick is expected to announce its position later today.

The move means travellers won’t have to isolate for 14 days upon entering each province.

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Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin says his province is also currently on track to open to the rest of the country no later than July 14.

When do COVID-19 restrictions ease in my province? A guide to the rules across Canada

Rankin says discussions are continuing with the other Atlantic premiers on co-ordinating an opening to the rest of Canada.

In a news release, he says lower case numbers across the region signal that “reopening to our neighbours is the right step.”

In Prince Edward Island, Premier Dennis King said residents of the other Atlantic provinces as well as the Iles-de-la-Madeleine who have received one shot of COVID-19 vaccine will be able to enter the province without having to self-isolate. The measure will begin with a “soft launch” June 23 for those entering under currently approved travel streams before broadening on June 27.

For other Canadians, visitors can enter without isolating as of July 28, provided they have received two shots of vaccine, he told reporters. The province is setting up a P.E.I. Pass system to allow travellers to establish their vaccination status ahead of arrival.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said residents of Atlantic Canada would be welcome in his province as of 12:01 a.m. June 23, without a requirement for testing and self-isolation.

In a news release today, Furey said the reopening would benefit local business, reunite family and friends and bring people “closer to a more normal sense of life that we can all appreciate.”

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Saskatchewan to open more pop-up vaccine clinics, easing self-isolation requirements

Saskatchewan is changing self-isolation requirements for residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health says most people who are 14 days past their second dose and asymptomatic will not need to self-isolate if they come in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

Anyone with symptoms – however mild – will still have to self-isolate, just like people who are unvaccinated or have only received one dose.

Public health officials can also require fully vaccinated close contacts to isolate if they have an increased risk of serious illness or live in higher-risk locations.

The province says it will set up mobile and pop-up clinics this week to deliver more first vaccine doses.

It says clinic locations will include malls, golf courses, parks and some large workplaces.

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Children and adults under 30 driving COVID-19 surge in parts of northern Ontario

Officials in a northern Ontario health unit say children, adults under 30 and people who are not vaccinated are driving a surge in COVID-19 cases in the region.

Dr. Lianne Catton says the case rate in the Porcupine Health Unit is 290 per 100,000 – nearly five times higher than the rate the province had set as a benchmark for reopening.

The health unit, which includes the city of Timmins, did not move to the first stage of the province’s reopening plan last week.

Recent data shows the majority of the active cases are located in Timmins and in First Nations communities in the James Bay and Hudson Bay regions.

Catton said last week that the more infectious Delta variant, which first appeared in India, was detected through community transmission.

Catton is urging residents to restrict their interactions and continue to follow public health measures.

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Winnipeg church charged with breaking COVID protocols over graduation ceremony

A Winnipeg church accused of breaking COVID-19 health orders by holding an indoor graduation ceremony is facing charges.

The Manitoba government has issued a court summons to Springs Church over the event last month that saw high school graduates gather indoors for a ceremony broadcast to people sitting in cars outside the church.

The government says the church faces two counts of violating public health orders – holding an indoor gathering and failing to remind people to wear masks while indoors.

The church, in a statement last month, said it tried to follow the rules.

It said the grad ceremony was a closed television shoot inside a studio with 18 students who had been together during the school year.

The government says enforcement officers issued 106 tickets in total last week, mostly stemming from gatherings in private homes or outdoors.

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Ontario reports 296 cases – lowest count since September

A man walks with a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, March 11, 2021.

CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Ontario is reporting 296 cases of COVID-19 today and 13 deaths from the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 62 new cases in Peel Region, 60 in Toronto and 45 in Waterloo Region.

The numbers are based on 17,162 tests.

The province says 433 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning.

That number includes 382 patients in intensive care and 244 on ventilators.

The province says 184,989 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday for a total of more than 11.5 million doses.

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Quebec long-term care homes free of COVID-19 as 105 new cases reported in province

Provincial data shows there are no active COVID-19 cases in Quebec long-term care homes, after thousands of people died in the facilities during the pandemic’s first and second waves.

As of June 13, the CHSLD Aime-Leduc southwest of Montreal was the only establishment reporting an active case, but that institution has been removed from the latest list published today.

Dr. Jasmin Villeneuve, a medical adviser with the province’s health institute, credits the fact that 95 per cent of residents have received a first vaccine dose and 84 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Villeneuve says health workers also have a better understanding of the virus now, and fewer people are bringing COVID-19 into the homes due to lower transmission rates overall.

The data comes as the number of cases in the province continues to decline, with 105 new cases in the previous 24-hour reporting period and six additional deaths.

Hospitalizations declined by five to 209, while the number of people in intensive care fell by four to 50.

Nova Scotia to move to second phase under five-step reopening plan

Officials in Nova Scotia are expected to announce today the province will move into the second phase of its five-step reopening plan on Wednesday.

In an e-mailed statement, the Health Department says the province is comfortable moving into Phase 2 because COVID-19 cases are staying low, hospitalizations are down and vaccine coverage has increased.

Under the next phase, restaurants and bars are allowed to have indoor dining with physical distancing between tables.

All retail stores will also be allowed to operate at 50 per cent of the store’s capacity, and households can have more than one person designated for shopping.

Hair salons, barbershops, spas, nail salons and body art establishments can offer all services by appointment only, including services that require a client to remove their mask.

Under the changes, the indoor social gathering limit will be increased to 10 people, without physical distancing and masks, while the outdoor limit rises to 25 people, without physical distancing.

One dead in Yukon’s COVID-19 outbreak, total cases climb to 107 since pandemic start

Another death has been recorded in Yukon linked to COVID-19, the third fatality in the territory since the pandemic began last year.

Yukon’s acting chief medical health officer, Dr. Catherine Elliott, says the person who died was a unvaccinated Whitehorse resident.

She says the person became ill after contact with someone who was diagnosed with the virus.

Elliot confirmed five new cases of COVID-19 in the territory and says all involve the Gamma variant associated with Brazil.

The total case count in the territory is now 107 and Elliot says three of the five new infections are in Whitehorse, with one involving a student at a local elementary school.

Yukon had one case of COVID-19 in May but this outbreak involves nearly two dozen patients – more than half diagnosed since Friday and most linked to unvaccinated participants at high school graduation events.

Speaking at a news conference in Whitehorse on Monday, Elliot said what happens over the next several days will help officials decide if recently eased COVID-19 restrictions should be tightened again.

Residents are urged to continue to wear masks, wash hands and maintain physical distancing.

Elliot said it would not be surprising to see more cases and she offered condolences after the latest death.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the family of this individual,” she said in a statement.

“Out of respect, we will not be releasing any additional information.”

Canada in WTO talks on possibly waiving vaccine patents

The World Trade Organization is in talks about the possibility of temporarily waiving intellectual property rights around COVID-19 vaccines.

Francisco Seco/The Associated Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there is no single “silver bullet” to suddenly result in vaccines being available around the world.

Speaking in Brussels following a Canada-EU with European leaders, Trudeau says the issue of COVID-19 vaccine patents is complex, but the global goal is to get everyone around the world safely vaccinated as quickly as possible.

The World Trade Organization is in talks about the possibility of temporarily waiving intellectual property rights around vaccines. Those backing the move say doing so would make it easier for developing countries to import the expertise, equipment and ingredients necessary to make their own COVID-19 vaccines.

European leaders have presented another alternative to the idea from Africa and India. They believe a better solution is compulsory licensing, which is when a government OKs someone else making a patent-protected product without the owner’s permission.

The Canadian government has confirmed it’s in on the WTO talks around waiving vaccine patents, but after being asked repeatedly, Trudeau has yet to say what Canada’s position is on the matter.

Trudeau to visit Pfizer plant on final day of international trip

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is spending the last day of his first international trip in more than a year visiting a plant that played a pivotal role in Canada’s early rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He will visit the manufacturing facility in Puurs, Belgium, which produced Canada’s supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine until the United States started shipping doses early last month.

Canada faced some bumps in its vaccination campaign earlier this year when a slowdown at the production plant in Belgium disrupted delivery plans.

This week alone, Canada is set to receive 2.4 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, which has been consistently delivering large weekly shipments since mid-March.

Trudeau is also set to hold a news conference with European leaders following a Canada-EU summit the previous day, where they were set to talk about trade, climate change and critical minerals.

Later Tuesday, Trudeau will fly back to Canada, where his office says he will begin a 14-day quarantine, first in an Ottawa hotel until he receives a negative COVID-19 test result.

Trudeau spent the past few days also attending summits for NATO allies and G7 leaders.

B.C. reports no new COVID-19 deaths as it begins second step of reopening plan

British Columbia health officials are reporting 108 new cases of COVID-19 as the province begins step two of its reopening plan.

They say in a statement B.C. has 1,496 active cases and 143,299 people have recovered from the infection.

There have been no new deaths and the total number of fatalities is 1,734.

Officials say more than 76 per cent of eligible adults have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 657,491 have had their second shot.

Step two of the reopening plan means indoor seated gatherings with up to 50 people are permitted at venues such as movie theatres and banquet halls, while pubs and restaurants may serve liquor until midnight.

Premier John Horgan announced a four-step plan last month aiming to allow residents to attend live concerts, watch indoor sports events and take off their masks by Sept. 7.

Labour shortages, closed borders major obstacles to B.C. restaurant, tourism restarts

Progressive easing of pandemic health restrictions in British Columbia are welcome steps to bring back normal life, but tourism and restaurant sector representatives say operators face daunting COVID-19 related barriers of worker shortages and border closures.

The shortage of labour in B.C. and the closed border between Canada and the United States will hinder the restart effort despite fewer health restrictions, restaurant and tourism industry spokesmen said Tuesday.

Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., said the industry lost billions of dollars in revenues over the past 16 months and it won’t start to recover until international travellers can visit.

The industry is calling on the federal government to move quickly to reopen the border to bring U.S. and international tourists to B.C., he said.

“It cannot come soon enough,” said Judas.

Before the pandemic, tourism in B.C. generated about $21.5 billion in revenue, but data for 2020 indicates the number dropped to less than $7 billion, he said.

“If we could start with the United States and progress from there, that’s really where the industry needs to be in fairly short order,” said Judas. “We can’t afford another summer with only domestic visitation because it doesn’t pay the bill.”

Premier John Horgan said he expects the border opening issue to be raised Thursday during the weekly call between the premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

B.C. lifted recreational travel restrictions from within the province Tuesday as part of its four-step reopening plan that aims for a return to normal pre-pandemic life without masks and limits on gatherings after Labour Day.

Ian Tostenson, B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association president, said the industry is gearing up for a full reopening without restrictions, but is facing a reduced workforce.

Restaurants, pubs and bars employed an estimated 190,000 people prior to the pandemic, but the industry is bracing for a loss of about 40,000 people over the past 16 months, he said.

“It’s all about labour,” said Tostenson. “It’s a real problem. It’s going to be a real struggle.”

He said many people left the industry to find more secure work as restaurants cut staff or closed during the pandemic. Others decided not to work in an industry where they were not comfortable interacting directly with the public during a pandemic, Tostenson said.

He said many restaurants are being forced to examine their opening hours and are paring down their menus due to fewer workers as the province allows for more freedoms.

Tostenson said he expected a hot job market for potential restaurant employees this summer. He suggested potential employees apply in person.

“These [employers] are not sitting at the back looking at banks of computers,” Tostenson said. “Go there, look good, put a smile on your face and say you want a job. Chances are you’ll be hired.”

The B.C. government announced Tuesday those restaurants and bars that were temporarily allowed to serve liquor on outdoor patios areas could apply to keep them permanently.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says in a news release temporary patios helped the businesses during the pandemic and the government plans to make them part of a long-term recovery plan.

Brian Richmond, artistic director at Victoria’s Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre, said he’s delighted at the prospect of a return to live theatre even if it’s only 50 people in the theatre to start.

“The performing arts will always be a challenge,” said Richmond, whose theatre company plans to stage Newfoundland playwright David French’s play Salt Water Moon as its first production next month.

“The performing arts have been particularly hard hit. Just as a sector, we need your support right now,” he said.

Step two of B.C.’s four-step reopening plan permits indoor gatherings of a maximum of 50 people and extends the cutoff of alcohol sales at restaurants, pubs and bars to midnight.

Step three, due July 1, includes optional mask wearing, spectators at indoor sports events and an increase in capacity at indoor gatherings.

Nova Scotia will join Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador in a joint opening made possible by steadily declining COVID-19 rates across the region. The move means travellers won't have to isolate for 14 days upon entering each province. The Canadian Press

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