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Atlantic provinces lift travel restrictions within region: traffic heavy

Images taken at the border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick show long lines of cars, trucks and recreational vehicles
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Soon after the four Atlantic provinces lifted travel restrictions within the region early Friday, heavy cross-border traffic was reported across the Maritimes.

Residents of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island can now travel to any of the other three provinces without self-isolating for 14 days after arriving — a change that has created a so-called Atlantic bubble.

Video footage from the Confederation Bridge showed a steady stream of vehicles heading to P.E.I. after midnight when the restrictions were lifted.

In the morning, photos shared on social media showed P.E.I. Premier Dennis King greeting travellers at the toll booths on the P.E.I. side of the bridge, where tourists were also being offered potato bags holding a selection of Island products.

A P.E.I. Health Department spokesperson said the province received 5,200 applications for entry — a requirement under the Island's rules — for the first three days of the bubble.

And images taken at the border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick showed long lines of cars, trucks and recreational vehicles.

The lineup to get into Nova Scotia at 8 a.m. was holding up traffic for about 15 minutes, but once at the front of the line the screening process took less than a minute to complete.

Typically about 3,000 vehicles enter Nova Scotia from New Brunswick every day, but that number was reached well before noon on Friday.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the lineups could be causing problems for essential service workers, though he noted that commercial trucks already have a dedicated entry point.

"We'll make adjustments accordingly," he said. "We have to make sure Atlantic Canadians are able to move through our borders."

However, the premier also said he was concerned by increasing chatter on social media about vehicles from outside the region — including those with American plates — entering the province.

"We want to make sure that we're capturing anyone who is from outside the Atlantic bubble so that we can communicate to them directly — and we'll try to learn from this morning," McNeil said.

Anyone who lives outside the Atlantic region must isolate themselves for 14 days once they arrive in one of the four provinces — and that includes Atlantic Canadians travelling from outside the region.

McNeil said Nova Scotians' growing concerns about people coming from the United States has prompted his government to ramp up its efforts to keep track of those entering the province who are not from another part of Atlantic Canada.

Meanwhile, the lineup for those heading from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick stretched for several kilometres in the morning.

"Traffic is very heavy today, as expected," a New Brunswick official said in a brief statement.

"Officers are working hard to welcome travellers efficiently, making adjustments as they go. They were pleased to note that an increasing number of travellers have printed and filled out their roadside questionnaire before arriving at the border, which helped save time."

The premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have hinted restrictions could soon be lifted for visitors from the rest of Canada if all goes well. McNeil said that could happen as early as next week.

Some residents have criticized the so-called "Atlantic bubble" over fears the novel coronavirus could re-emerge in the region, but health officials are encouraging people to trust the science behind the decision and keep following health measures.

Marine Atlantic, which operates the ferry between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, says it's received 3,000 bookings since the plan was announced. The company says it will gradually increase passenger capacity over several weeks.

The Crown corporation reported that 140 passengers arrived in Port aux Basques, N.L., after the Atlantic bubble opened.

Another vessel with 104 passengers aboard was scheduled to arrive at 6 p.m. Friday, Marine Atlantic said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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