Nova Scotia reports one new COVID-19-related death, expands vaccine mandate

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is expanding its vaccine mandate, announcing Wednesday that it will require 11,000 direct government employees to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30.

The move comes a week after the province announced the mandate for public sector employees such as health workers and teachers and as health officials reported one new death related to COVID-19 and 25 new cases of the virus.

"If you are deciding not to get vaccinated that's your choice, but the consequences of your choice are clear," Premier Tim Houston said during a media briefing.

Like the previous groups of workers covered by the mandatory vaccine policy, government civil servants who don't get two shots by the deadline will be placed on unpaid administrative leave, unless they have received an employer-approved medical exemption. 

Under the rules, full vaccination will also be a condition of employment for new staff being hired by the province.

Houston said expanding the mandate was part of a plan that began with requiring shots for those working with the most vulnerable in society.

"I think we signalled early on that we would be expanding it as we thought necessary," he told reporters. He added that there likely wouldn't be more employee groups included in the mandatory requirement. 

"I think we're pretty much there," the premier said.

Houston noted that the province instituted its proof-of-vaccination policy on Monday. It obliges people over the age of 12 to show proof of vaccination to access services and businesses the government deems non-essential, such as restaurants, movie theatres and gyms.

The premier said he believes most people are on board with the measure, although he pointed to anecdotal reports of abuse given to some service industry workers who are tasked with checking customers for proof of vaccination at their businesses.

"If you're unhappy, feel free to flip me the bird when I'm walking down the street or yell at me, but don't yell at the person that's just doing their job," he said.

Officials said the death reported Wednesday was a woman in her 70s who lived in the Halifax area. There have been 98 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus in the province since the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 20 of the new cases were identified in the Halifax area, while there were two in the province's western zone, two in the northern zone and one in the eastern zone.

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said the province is averaging about 40 cases a day — a figure he said was "largely expected" during the fourth wave of the virus.

"So far our (Nova Scotia's) situation is relatively stable, which is good news, but we all have to work together to keep it that way," said Strang.

According to provincial data, 81.2 per cent of the population has had at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine, while 75.6 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Strang said while the percentages are good, the emergence of the Delta variant means they have to go higher, to at least 80 per cent of the province's population.

"Everyone who can needs to get vaccinated — period," he said. 

Nova Scotia has 254 active virus cases, with 15 people in hospital due to an infection, including five patients in intensive care. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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