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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says the three Maritime provinces plan to enter into a travel bubble by mid-April, with Newfoundland and Labrador joining later – and hopes barriers to visitors from the rest of Canada could be lifted by early July.

The plan to remove entrance restrictions and quarantine requirements has been much-anticipated in the eastern provinces, where cases of COVID-19 have remained low in recent weeks. Travel around Atlantic Canada has been tightly controlled through provincial boundary checkpoints and other measures since November, when the last “Atlantic Bubble” agreement ended.

The new deal, discussed by all four Atlantic premiers Wednesday evening, would mean residents could travel freely between the Maritime provinces without the need to pre-register or self-isolate for two weeks upon entry. Premier Higgs said the plan is to add Newfoundland soon, after once active case numbers drop there.

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No firm date has been set for the new travel agreement, he said.

Canada vaccine tracker: How many COVID-19 doses have been administered so far?

“We agreed on the time frame of mid-April, and we’re working with our public health officials to get alignment in that regard,” said Premier Higgs. “We’re all optimistic it will open.”

For Canadians elsewhere who have spent a year being unable to visit family in the east without restrictive quarantines, the premier offered the most optimistic view yet for potential summer reunions. The news is also a potential lifeline for the region’s hospitality and tourism sectors, which were badly hurt by last summer’s travel restrictions.

The premier said he hopes by mid-June that vaccinations are widespread enough his government could confirm that restrictions to the rest of Canada would be lifted in July.

“Optimistically, it would be looking at early July,” Premier Higgs told reporters, in a conference call after his virtual meeting with the Atlantic premiers Wednesday evening. “We’ll know as we go along over the next couple of months whether we’ll be able to achieve that schedule or not.”

New Brunswick plans to have most adults partially vaccinated by the end of June. If that goes according to plan, the need for travelers to self-isolate upon entry would be reduced, he said.

“Once we achieve our herd immunity levels, then I’d say our quarantine requirements would ultimately disappear. When we have a population that is protected, then we obviously have less concern about travelers who are coming and going,” he said.

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