HALIFAX, N.S. — Halifax Regional Municipality is shutting down recreational and community facilities and urging citizens to look out for each other.
“This is an extraordinary time and we are taking extraordinary measures to get through this and we will get through this,” Mayor Mike Savage said at a late Monday afternoon news conference held at the Dartmouth municipal building that houses the Emergency Management Office.
“The health, safety and wellness of residents and employees is our priority and our focus,” Savage said. “We are actively taking steps to mitigate impacts on municipal services while also helping to reduce the spread of the disease.”
Savage said the municipality is working closely with government partners and following the guidance of the federal and provincial health agencies.
“Essential services such as police and fire are unaffected at this point,” the mayor said. “Halifax Transit as well as essential services of the municipality, including 311, fire and police, continue to be operational and adhering to the most updated guidelines and precautions of health officials.
“We are asking anyone who is feeling ill to please stay home. Follow the advice of health professionals. This is not the time to be a hero.”
There are increasingly fewer places to go and means to get there if you don’t choose to stay home.
“All recreational facilities, community centres and arenas will close as of this evening until further notice,” chief administrative officer Jacques Dube said in outlining the measures the municipality has taken.
“Ferry capacity will now be limited to 150 passengers and all buses will be limited to seated passengers only,” Dube said, adding that Halifax Transit thus far has maintained a regular schedule.
Dube said there is an increased cleaning frequency in all municipal facilities, including buses.
Dave Reage, director of Halifax Transit, said buses are cleaned every 24 to 48 hours, especially any frequently touched surfaces. Ferry cleaning is every 24 hours.
Reage said buses have to return to the depot for cleaning, making every 24 hours the best-case scenario.
“In terms of social distancing … if you are on a bus and if you are sitting next to someone, the distance between the seats is what it is,” Reage said. “If you are not feeling well, do not take transit.”
All public libraries in the municipality have been shut down, all in-person engagements and events have been postponed and next week’s regional council meeting has been scuttled. Waste collection will continue on schedule and Halifax Water will maintain critical service.
Erica Fleck, division chief of Emergency Management with Halifax Fire, said the municipal team is learning from best practices and mistakes made across the country and around the world in relation to COVID-19.
“It’s not too much too soon,” Fleck said of HRM’s announced measures. “Residents of HRM who feel that we are doing too much now, all I can tell you is that everybody across Canada and around the world have said that they wished they had started sooner and they wish they had shut down other services sooner.”
The mayor announced earlier in the day that the person who had a link to the disease who had been in indirect contact with his office had tested negative for the virus.
Meanwhile, most of HRM’s councillors reached Monday said they were not planning trips in the near future. Coun. Sam Austin of Dartmouth is an exception.
“I’m out of the country right now,” Austin replied by email. “We flew to Orlando March 8 for a family vacation and then three days later daily life as we know it all started to change as everything got cancelled, the market crashed, and broad travel advisories were issued. Had our flights been three days later, we would have cancelled. Hopefully, we are coming home Thursday and into self-isolation. We’re fine as far as we know.”
Coun. Shawn Cleary is also in self-isolation after just returning from Florida on Sunday.
Savage said he realizes “these times can cause much stress and anxiety,” and that everyone is feeling the effects.
“If you need to speak to somebody, we encourage you to reach out to friends, loved ones and colleagues. If you need additional support you can call 211 to speak to someone who can help.”
Residents can stay updated at halifax.ca/coronavirus