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ANDY WALKER: Mandatory mask policy on P.E.I. not really a surprise

Wearing a mask is now mandatory in public places across P.E.I.
Wearing a mask is now mandatory in public places across P.E.I. - 123RF Stock Photo

The decision by P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, to make masks mandatory certainly comes as no surprise.

While the number of cases in this province has, thankfully, remained low, there is little doubt the rest of the country is now headlong into the long-feared second wave. Case numbers in larger provinces like Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia hit a new record almost everyday during November. In the hardest-hit areas of Ontario, the restrictions put in place resemble the early days of the pandemic when virtually everything but grocery stores was closed and visiting was prohibited outside your household.

From the beginning, P.E.I. has had some of the toughest rules in the country. For example, Alberta recently reduced the maximum number of guests allowed at weddings from 100 to 50 in response to rising case numbers. When Dr. Morrison increased the limits earlier this year, they went from 20 to 50.

Masks have been mandatory in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for some time and there has been a high compliance rate in both provinces. There is no reason to expect anything different here - while we have not always liked the changes that have occurred to our lifestyle since the pandemic became a fact of life, for the most part, we have abided by the rules.

Both our sister Maritime provinces have also seen a rise in cases and suspected community spread, particularly in Moncton and Halifax - the two largest and main off-Island Christmas shopping destinations. Dr. Morrison has advised Islanders not to travel out of the province and Premier Dennis King was even blunter, saying a shopping trip to Moncton was not a necessity.

Singling out the hub city may have some negative repercussions next spring. What if New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs or the mayor of Moncton start telling people a vacation trip to P.E.I. is not a necessity and they should stay closer to home?

Both health and government officials have to be concerned about what is happening in another small jurisdiction to the west and north - Nunavut.  As of Nov. 19, the territory had recorded about the same number of cases as P.E.I. - 70 for them and 68 for us. The big difference, however, was our cases happened over approximately eight months - in Nunavut, they all occurred within the last two weeks after the territory had been free of cases from March until Nov. 6. They are now essentially in total lockdown with schools and all non-essential businesses closed. 

The territory's premier, Joe Savikataaq, issued his version of the "Stay the Blazes Home" sentiment voiced earlier in the pandemic by Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil - “Don’t visit outside your household. Don’t gather or socialize. Don’t travel unless absolutely necessary."

With the Christmas season now less than a month away, health officials are worried that increased visitation and social activity will result in additional cases in P.E.I.  Many Islanders who have relatives within the Atlantic Bubble may well be planning to visit over the holidays. While Dr. Morrison doesn't appear ready yet to ban regional travel, it is clear from her remarks it is now highly discouraged.

It has become a cliché that every holiday we celebrate now is "like no other we have ever seen." The thing about most clichés is they contain a high degree of truth. All we can do now is try to keep ourselves safe and hopefully, the myriad of vaccines that seem to be announcing promising results almost daily will allow us to celebrate Christmas under the "old normal" next year.

Andy Walker is an Island-based political commentator. His column appears every week in the Journal Pioneer.

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