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Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia chief medical officer of health, on March 17, 2020. Nova Scotia’s weekly COVID-19 report is showing a significant jump in the number of positive lab cases.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Despite a significant jump in the number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in Nova Scotia over the last week, officials said Thursday there are no immediate plans to reintroduce measures such as mandatory masking.

The province released its weekly report Thursday which identified 6,991 new positive lab cases of the Omicron and BA.2 variants of novel coronavirus. That’s 2,803 more confirmed cases than were reported the previous week, when there were 4,188.

“There’s no doubt the current situation is concerning,” said Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health. “COVID-19 is challenging us once again.”

However, despite some public and political pressure in the province, Strang said there would be no immediate return to widespread restrictions.

“I am confident that we are in the position to manage this pandemic without restrictions, even with the virus activity we are seeing,” he said.

Strang said the province has a high degree of immunity, largely the result of vaccination but also from previous infections, which together provide “a high level of protection from severe disease.”

The weekly report also noted eight more deaths, bringing the total to 263 since the pandemic began. There were 61 new hospital admissions due to the virus and 32 discharges, and as of Wednesday a total of 57 people were in hospital with the disease.

Dr. Shelley Deeks, deputy chief medical officer of health, said the data indicates that age and health status are the biggest risk factors for severe outcomes.

The report said the median age for reported deaths since the start of the Omicron wave in early December is 79, while 27.2 per cent of the people who died were unvaccinated or had just one dose of vaccine.

“Those (risks) happen to be outside of our control,” said Deeks. “We can use the things that are in our control like getting vaccinated, wearing masks as a way to protect those at highest risk.”

Nova Scotia lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions March 21, including gathering limits and the mask mandate in public spaces. Masking is still required in health-care settings, seniors residences and in schools.

The Opposition Liberals have been pressing the government on its response to the current wave of COVID-19, and the questioning continued in the legislature on Thursday.

Ahead of Srang’s news conference, Liberal Leader Iain Rankin again asked Premier Tim Houston whether he would reconsider putting in place restrictions to “keep people safe.”

“Focusing solely on case numbers is not what Nova Scotians should be doing,” Houston responded. “They know the risks around them, they know COVID is around them in the community, and they have the tools to protect themselves.”

The premier added that he is concerned about the amount of virus in the province. “But am I confident Nova Scotians know what to do? I’m very confident in that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Strang confirmed the province would be making a second booster shot available to adults 70 and older, with details on the rollout to come next week.

The decision to offer a fourth dose is based on updated guidelines released earlier this week by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Provincial officials said people who are 70 and older can receive a booster dose 120 days following their primary series or their first booster dose.

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