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Churches re-open but arts groups and restaurants remain shuttered

Faith-based gatherings have a change in restrictions allowing them to take place between December 21 and January 10.

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They say music is a religion, and we all know a good meal provides a religious experience. - STOO METZ
  • STOO METZ
  • They say music is a religion, and we all know a good meal provides a religious experience.
On Wednesday, the Nova Scotia government introduced a complicated new set of regulations that will apply in the province from December 21 through January 10.

“We know the holidays are traditionally a time for a lot of socializing with family and friends, but we also know that gatherings can allow the virus to spread rapidly,” says premier Stephen McNeil. “We ask Nova Scotians to find new ways of celebrating this season while respecting these restrictions that are designed to keep our social gatherings small and our communities safe.”

Starting at 12:01am Monday the 21st, personal bubbles province-wide can expand to up to 10 people. Strang says this will allow people to gather over the holidays in slightly larger groups, but he encourages everyone to keep them consistent. “If you’re going to gather with folks, don’t gather with one group one night, another group another night,” Strang says.

While this change is straightforward, some new regulations apply somewhat differently depending on what part of the province you’re in. For Halifax Regional Municipality and a designated part of Hants county, restaurants and bars will remain closed.

“We’ve had discussions with the restaurant sector. They are OK with keeping them closed in the Halifax area. They understand the rationale is that closing them down was a big part of our ability to get things under control again in Halifax,” says Strang.

But for the rest of the province, restaurants and licensed establishments can re-open on Monday, following guidelines from RANS and ensuring they end service at 10pm, and shut their doors by 11pm.

“What we need to do is reduce the chances that the virus has to spread between people. So in restaurants and licensed establishments, we need to reduce the longer social interactions where people are not wearing masks because they’re eating and drinking,” says Strang.

Then there’s physical activity. Gym facilities and yoga studios can re-open across the province, ensuring they keep to 50 percent capacity and physical distancing of three metres between people if they’re involved in “high-intensity” activities. “Virtual sessions can continue and outdoor fitness classes can also happen,” Strang says.

Sports teams can practice with up to 25 people, but holding games (and anything else with an audience) is still not allowed. Halifax's recreational facilities will reopen for rentals on the 21st.

“We need to have ways for people to be physically active, both for their physical and their mental health,” Strang says. “So, people can get together up to 25 without distancing, and the without distancing is important because these activities require some playing, people training at a hockey practice need to be in close contact.”

The same goes for the arts industry—which can gather in groups of up to 25 for rehearsals, but performances like live theatre or music and holiday festivals are not permitted this year.

“This is necessary to limit opportunities for the virus to spread,” adds Strang.

But from December 21 to January 10, Nova Scotians will be allowed to hit up their place of worship. Up to 150 people are permitted outdoors at a faith gathering, wedding or funeral ceremonies, or up to 50 percent of capacity indoors up to a maximum of 100 people. (But wedding and funeral receptions are not allowed.)

Strang says this is because of “their importance and their significance, especially at this time of year.” But who are they important to right now?

Christmas, a largely white and Christian holiday, takes place in less than two weeks. But the pandemic has already seen the forfeiture of gatherings for Hannukah, Diwali, Eid Mubarak and other holidays that have taken place over the past nine months.

When asked about the difference between organizations and groups that are allowed to gather and those that aren’t, Strang said there was a rationale.

“Those aren’t social events, but allowing people to get together for other purposes which are important for our individual and our collective health.”

But let’s not forget the importance of restaurants, concerts and live art for our individual and collective health too. Aside from the former having nicer seats, what’s that different from having your soul refreshed with music at a Neptune Theatre show versus at a church service? 

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