Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press
HALIFAX — Most of Halifax will be subject to tightened COVID-19 restrictions and two schools that reported cases will be temporarily closed as health officials try to head off community spread of the novel coronavirus.
The measures were announced Friday as the province reported five new cases, bringing the number of active cases to 28. The new infections are all in the central health zone, which includes Halifax.
"We are at a critical point in our province — if we don't act now it may be too late," Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters. "That's why we are taking a targeted approach in the central zone to contain this virus here and slow the spread."
Auburn Drive High School in Cole Harbour and its family of eight elementary and junior high schools were closed Friday to allow for cleaning, after a second case was reported at the high school. Health officials said the case involved a close contact of an earlier reported case at the school.
As a result, McNeil said Auburn Drive and Graham Creighton Junior High in Cherry Brook, where a case was reported earlier in the week, will be closed until Dec. 7. "We are doing this as a precautionary measure, but the reality is we have COVID in these two schools and in the surrounding communities," the premier said.
McNeil also said that effective Monday, stricter gathering limits will enter into effect for the next four weeks, until Dec. 21, across most parts of Halifax and parts of its regional municipality. Five people instead of 10 will be allowed to gather in a close social group without physical distancing, while households can only have a maximum of five visitors at one time.
Gatherings at long-term care homes across the province will be reduced to five people from 10, and adult day programs for seniors who live in the community will not be allowed.
In most parts of Halifax, limits for informal social gatherings outdoors and indoors will be reduced from 50 to 25 people. Indoor events run by a recognized business or organization will be allowed to have 50 per cent of the venue's capacity to a maximum of 100 people, down from 200.
McNeil also said staff who work at bars in the Halifax area will be tested over the next seven days, starting early next week. Restaurants and bars across the province will be required to collect information from their patrons.
Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said the measures are aimed at preventing further community spread of the virus. "While travel sparked our initial cases it is now social activity that is fanning the flames and causing the virus to circulate more widely," Strang said. "I am worried about the potential for this situation to snowball."
Nova Scotia has reported 51 COVID-19 cases so far in November. Aside from the high school case, officials said three of the new cases were still under investigation. The remaining case, they said, was determined to be connected to a previously reported one.