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All remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in Nova Scotia by March 21, including proof of vaccination and indoor mask mandates.

“There comes a point in time where the benefit of the restrictions is outweighed by the impact of those restrictions,” Premier Tim Houston told reporters Wednesday.

He said politicians and health officials have always made it clear that they would follow the science, and now the science is saying “that we are ready.”

“There will be some that say it’s not fast enough, others will say it’s too fast, but the reality is that the pace at which we are moving ... is right for our situation in our province,” he said.

Leading up to March 21, the province will gradually ease restrictions. That includes ending as of Feb. 28 the proof-of-vaccine requirement for “non-essential” activities such as going to restaurants.

“Proof of vaccination for discretionary activities was always meant to be a temporary measure,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health. “After nearly five months, we are in a place now where it’s no longer required for day-to-day activities.”

But Strang said the proof-of-vaccine requirement would remain in place “for now” in high-risk settings such as hospitals and long-term care homes, as will the vaccine mandates for employees in those areas of health care.

Starting March 7, large venues will be able to operate at 75 per cent capacity – up to 5,000 people – with physical distancing as much as possible. Weddings, funerals and faith services will also move to 75 per cent capacity.

Restaurants, bars and casinos will be able to return to regular hours and operate at the current level of 75 per cent capacity, while fitness and recreation facilities will also be allowed to operate at 75 per cent capacity.

The indoor mask requirement in public spaces and schools will remain until March 21, but Strang said it will be recommended that people continue to wear masks at their discretion.

Strang said the risk of COVID-19 will remain despite the lifting of restrictions, although it should be reduced over time.

“There is risk of course, but that would be true if we did it last week or two months from now,” he said. “There is no textbook that lays out for us exactly when and how to do this.”

Strang said that once public health measures are lifted, there could be an uptick in COVID-19 cases, but he said that will partly depend on the choices made by individual Nova Scotians.

“The impact of this actually depends a lot on how well Nova Scotians continue to adhere to the basic personal protective measures that we have been using for the last two years,” he said.

Health officials said Wednesday that 49 people were in hospital receiving specialized care in a designated COVID-19 unit, a drop of four patients from the 53 reported Tuesday. There were 11 patients in intensive care, a number down one from Tuesday.

An additional 200 new lab-confirmed cases were also reported, while officials estimated 1,898 active cases in the province.

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