Matthew Lake, a lifelong Nova Scotian who works shifts in Alberta’s oilpatch, says the most exciting thing he’s done since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is take his trash to the end of his driveway.
He’s worked on drilling rigs for eight years but always comes home to Kingston, N.S., where he’s been isolating at the end of each of his two-week rotations.
He said it’s not the lack of activity or connectivity that bothers him most but the impression that the provincial government is more concerned about how it can reopen the province to other Canadians than its own residents returning home from work.
“I think we should be looking after our own province’s people… not just only thinking about opening up for tourism and the economy,” he told Global News from his kitchen table.
“A person like me is going to spend money on their days off just as much as someone coming for four or five days on a vacation.”
Many resource sector workers in Nova Scotia are seeking an exception to the self-isolation rules, and calling on the provincial government to treat them as essential.
Alternatively, they’d like to be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive and freed from isolation after a negative test result.
Those practices are in place for returning workers in New Brunswick and P.E.I., respectively.
A spokesperson from New Brunswick’s Department of Health confirmed on Friday that none of the province’s cases of COVID-19 have been related to returning workers, whose isolation requirements were dropped on June 19.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, however, said the province is not prepared to follow in the footsteps of either Maritime province.
In a press conference on Thursday, he assured resource sector workers they have not been forgotten.
“This is an important decision for Public Health that actually takes in the totality of what is the potential risk of coming from another part of the country into Atlantic Canada and Nova Scotia,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t understand the challenges of that.”
Taking one test upon returning to Nova Scotia, he added, doesn’t necessarily mean a person is coronavirus-free, as the virus may present itself later. That’s why he is requiring post-secondary students coming in from outside the Atlantic bubble to take three COVID-19 tests during a mandatory two-week isolation period.
Sandy MacDonald, who works on contract for a pulp and paper mill in Quebec, said he doesn’t understand why his colleagues in New Brunswick are free to return home without isolating, while all Atlantic provinces remain in a bubble together for safety.
“This entire policy is based on the honour system,” he said on a video call from Quebec.
“If Nova Scotia is in the Atlantic bubble, shouldn’t the policies be door-to-door within that Atlantic bubble?”
The only reason he works in Quebec, he added, is that his long-time employer — the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County — was shut down.
MacDonald said his new employer is meticulous about hand sanitizing and washing, and he doesn’t understand why he’s such a risk, now that indoor and outdoor gathering limits, along with personal bubbles, have expanded in Nova Scotia so widely.
Even if he had COVID-19, he added, his immediate family living with him is not required to isolate. They could pass on the virus through exposure to him, he said, so he wonders how his isolation is even effective.
“Things have really opened up whether people want to realize it or not. You do have to be careful though, wash your hands and sanitize and wear your face covering.”
Lake, MacDonald and Blake MacPhee — a rotational oilsands worker who lives in Upper Rawdon, N.S. — all want the government to treat them the same way they treat the flight attendants serving the airplanes they take to come home. Those flight attendants, deemed essential, do not have to isolate, despite their exposure to everyone on the same plane.
“I’m just looking for consistency,” MacPhee said in an interview last week. “You got four different provinces, all in the Atlantic bubble, and they’re all doing different things.”
Their calls to have the same exemption as returning workers from New Brunswick have now been propped up by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.
“I don’t think, since New Brunswick doesn’t have a concern, that Nova Scotia should have a concern,” said its president and CEO Patrick Sullivan. “COVID-19 is not going away, we need to learn to live with it.”
McNeil said Thursday no time frame has been set for popping the Atlantic bubble, allowing all Canadians to travel freely through Nova Scotia, but the province will “potentially go it alone” if it can’t agree on a date with New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.
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