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Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King says his province is extending its withdrawal from the Atlantic bubble by another two weeks.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Restrictions meant to head off an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Halifax area are being extended for at least one more week, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health announced Friday.

The announcement followed word from the premier of Prince Edward Island that his government was holding off on a decision on whether to rejoin the Atlantic regional bubble.

Dr. Robert Strang noted that Nova Scotia is still reporting daily cases in the double digits. The province reported another 15 cases on Friday, with 11 in the Halifax area.

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“Modelling projects that this will continue for several more days,” Strang told reporters. “So we need more time with the existing restrictions in place to see these numbers come down and to be certain they will stay down.”

A decision on whether to continue with restrictions that saw Atlantic Canada’s largest city close down in-person dining at restaurants as well as close public libraries, museums, gyms and casinos, was to be made next Wednesday. Strang said that’s now been moved to Dec. 16.

He said he couldn’t make any promises about what the situation will look like then.

“What I can tell you is that the more we buckle down and stay tight right now … the better position we will be in to have some slight relaxation as we enter the holiday weeks before January starts.”

The new cases included one at Citadel High School in Halifax that was reported late Thursday. Three other cases were in the northern health zone and are close contacts of previously reported cases, and the remaining case was in the western zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. An additional case was identified on Friday at Park West School, a primary to Grade 9 school in Halifax.

Despite the continued detection of infections with this latest outbreak, officials said the province’s number of active COVID-19 cases had dropped to 117 from 119.

In neighbouring New Brunswick eight new cases were reported on Friday. The province has 111 active cases with no patients in hospital.

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The tally of cases in both provinces was noted by Prince Edward Island’s premier on Thursday when he told the legislature that his province was extending its withdrawal from the Atlantic bubble by another two weeks.

Dennis King said his government would not reassess its position until Dec. 21. The bubble withdrawal was originally set to expire at midnight on Monday.

King said that although COVID-19 outbreaks in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick seem to have neutralized, his government still isn’t comfortable enough to re-enter the bubble.

“To be very honest, it’s not our intention to have our points of entry closed any longer than we have to,” King said in response to questions posed by Progressive Conservative member Sydney MacEwan. “It was an extremely difficult decision to move in this direction initially.”

P.E.I. temporarily pulled out of the Atlantic bubble along with Newfoundland and Labrador on Nov. 23. The pair were later joined by New Brunswick, although Nova Scotia opted to stay in.

The four Atlantic Provinces formed their so-called bubble in July to allow residents to travel freely within the region, while people visiting from outside were required to isolate for 14 days.

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Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey acknowledged P.E.I.’s position on Friday, but said his province wouldn’t decide on the Atlantic bubble until Monday. The province reported three new cases of COVID-19 Friday, bringing its total of active cases to 27.

“Premier King and I chat quite frequently, but of course we’re evaluating the same evidence he’s evaluating,” Furey said.

Back in Nova Scotia Strang announced the launch of a period of asymptomatic testing across the province targeting those aged 16 to 35. He said the purpose was to limit the potential spread of the virus by detecting positive cases in people who do not have symptoms.

Canadian authorities are assessing COVID-19 vaccine candidates while trials are underway, speeding up any eventual approval for wide use. But science reporter Ivan Semeniuk says it’s likely high-risk people will be prioritized for receiving any vaccine first, with some possibly getting it as early as the first part of 2021. The Globe and Mail

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