National

Atlantic Canadians are married to bubble

The Canadian Press

It’s garnered everything from praise to scorn, but the “Atlantic bubble” has proven to be a fortress against rising COVID-19 rates across Canada, and residents are increasingly inclined to keep it that way.

A new survey conducted by Narrative Research at the end of September suggests four in five residents in the region want nothing to do with easing border restrictions with the rest of the country. That’s up four per cent from a similar poll in August.

In the lead-up to the open Atlantic borders on July 3, many people in Newfoundland and Labrador remained skeptical — so much so that Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald felt a need to offer reassurance.

“These are challenging and uncertain times, and uncertainty breeds fear, there’s no doubt of that,” Fitzgerald said in a June 30 video briefing. “But our choices must reflect the science and not our fears. We have trusted the science to get us where we are today, and we must continue to do so.”

Mixed reaction

Newfoundland and Labrador’s travel rules are the most strict in the region, demanding not only that everyone self-isolate for 14 days, but banning non-resident travellers from entering unless they have applied for a travel exemption.

Health Minister Dr. John Haggie has repeatedly pointed to the alarming resurgence of COVID-19 in some parts of the country to justify the a continued crackdown.

He also says the provincial and regional success in keeping the coronavirus at bay is turning heads in Canada and beyond.

In September, The National Post’s Sharon Kirkey noted how the Atlantic bubble has won the region the nickname of being North America’s New Zealand — a reference to the small island nation that crushed spread of the coronavirus early on.

“What Atlantic Canadians have done is hold off the rates of confirmed COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths seen in most other provinces, making the East Coast arguably one of the safest places in the Americas, if not the planet,” Kirkey wrote.

Rules challenged

But Newfoundland’s refusal to allow non-essential visitors has met with pushback. Among those who protested were expatriates and others who owned property in the province. After they lost what would have been a traditional summer sojourn, Public Health finally allowed them to qualify for exemptions at the end of August.

By that time, two charter challenges based on mobility rights had been launched.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association piggybacked on the first case involving a woman who was refused entry to attend her mother’s funeral.

The association’s executive director lashed out with disdain at the time.

“The Come From Away province told Canadians who’d come from away to bloody well stay away,” Michael Bryant wrote in a report on COVID-19. “Contrary to our constitutionally protected mobility rights, and contrary to Canada’s raison d’être, we unstitched our confederation, in a panic.”

He later posted a tweet saying Newfoundland should be more grateful for the federal dollars it gets, but later deleted it and apologized.

The judge ultimately ruled the province’s public-health concerns trump the otherwise valid constitutional arguments.

A second class-action suit is still pending.

But the Post’s Kirkey found others who believe the Atlantic bubble should be a role model.

“When you take a step back and you look at what the four Atlantic provinces are doing differently from the other six, this idea of quarantine after travel, with or without testing, seems to be the big difference,” Unity Health Toronto president Dr. Irfan Dhalla told her.

Dhalla pointed to larger Asian countries that mirror the approach.

“Sometimes I think we look to the Atlantic provinces and say, ‘Oh, they’re so small. What they’re doing wouldn’t work in Ontario or Quebec.’ But there are some very large countries doing the same thing.”

By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/The Telegram

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