The opening of provincial borders in an Atlantic bubble this month is looking "precarious," P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said Tuesday, as Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said he is leaning toward pushing the change to May.
No final decision has been made by regional premiers, but the growing number of cases of COVID-19 around the country, in particular variants of concern, had King expressing doubts about the stage of freer travel for Atlantic residents that had been planned to begin April 19.
"The landscape is very different today than it was four weeks ago," said King, speaking at the regular provincial pandemic briefing Tuesday morning.
"Things aren't going our way. The situation is difficult and I would say that the Atlantic bubble opening on April 19 would be precarious."
Nova Scotia brings back border rules
As King was speaking in Charlottetown, his counterpart in Nova Scotia was also sounding a warning note.
Rankin said border restrictions would be reintroduced for people crossing from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, due to rising case counts in New Brunswick.
He also said the bubble is "unlikely" to open April 19.
There was a lot of optimism about the possibility of freer travel with no obligation to isolate when the premiers set the April 19 target on March 18.
As recently as last week, King said in the P.E.I. Legislature that the Atlantic bubble was still on track to open as planned. But he cautioned that things seem to change daily in the pandemic.
He made a similar remark Tuesday, saying that they would need to "look at the science and data as it is presented to us each and every day."
Currently, New Brunswick has 145 active cases. There are 46 in Nova Scotia. Prince Edward Island has six and Newfoundland and Labrador's website is showing 10.
King said it's difficult to say how long the bubble might be delayed, but that P.E.I. is likely to consider a delay of two to three weeks before looking at the possibility of a bubble again.
"It's tough to plant flags in shifting sand, and that's just the reality of what we're at."
A smaller bubble
Given the relatively low case numbers in Nova Scotia, King was asked about the possibility of a bubble just with that province.
Currently, P.E.I.'s only direct connection to the mainland is with New Brunswick via Confederation Bridge. There are no regional flights operating out of the airport, and the seasonal ferry service that connects the Island to Nova Scotia does not start until May 1.
This means that in order for Nova Scotians to come to P.E.I., and vice-versa, the only route is through New Brunswick.
"You have to drive for 20 or 25 minutes to get here from Nova Scotia, and it's hard for us to determine if that car has actually gone directly through," said King.
"It becomes a challenge at the border."
King said there have been inquiries made about starting up the ferry service early, but the situation is complicated, requiring both permission and funding from Transport Canada. He said he does not know where that negotiation stands.
"Our preference remains an Atlantic bubble when it's safe to do so," said King, adding that logistically it is far easier.
"If this continues on throughout the summer I think we'll continue to try to find ways, and an open ferry might make that a little bit easier."
Another factor, King said, is that he would need more information about how the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border is being controlled.
While his preference is for a full regional bubble, King said he has learned during the pandemic that he needs to remain flexible and open-minded.
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