ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Nearly two weeks after a loosened travel agreement between their provinces came into effect, Atlantic Canadian premiers are not rushing to set a date to welcome visitors from the rest of the country.
The Atlantic travel "bubble" that opened July 3 allows residents of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island to travel between the four provinces without being required to self-isolate for 14 days.
Newfoundland and Labrador's premier had floated the idea of lifting restrictions for other Canadians by July 17, but Dwight Ball said Wednesday that date was merely a rough estimate of the earliest possible time the bubble could open.
"Right now we're just going to continue to monitor this," Ball said during a COVID-19 news conference Wednesday. "We're not anxious to get there right now."
Newfoundland and Labrador has a strict ban on entry for non-residents of the Atlantic provinces, a measure that is being challenged by two lawsuits. Ball said 9,900 exemptions to the travel ban have been granted to people in special circumstances.
The four Atlantic provinces have recently loosened rules restricting businesses and social activities as cases of the illness have dwindled in the region.
Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King said Tuesday he is comfortable with the regional bubble as is.
"At this point, I would say like my colleague — the premier of Newfoundland, Premier Ball — that I don't think we would be actively looking beyond the Atlantic bubble anytime soon," King said.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said in a statement Wednesday that while he is not ready to open the region to the rest of Canada, his government is looking at loosening restrictions for people who live near the Quebec border.
He said it may be possible to allow travel to and from Gaspe and some other regions of Quebec, but health risks will have to be assessed before making a decision.
"I have some apprehension right now about opening up the Atlantic region to the rest of the country," Higgs' statement said. "I believe my fellow Atlantic premiers share those concerns, and we will be discussing the matter in the coming days."
A statement from the office of Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said expanding the regional bubble to the rest of Canada will be based on the COVID-19 situation and epidemiology at the time.
The remarks from the premiers came after Prince Edward Island's top doctor said Monday it is "premature" to encourage broader travel.
P.E.I. has nine active cases of COVID-19, out of 36 total cases. People who have recently tested positive in the province include a health-care worker and a patient in the emergency room at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.
Nova Scotia and New Brunswick both reported one new positive case in their provinces Wednesday.
None of the four Atlantic provinces have indicated a firm date to broaden travel. Instead, officials are encouraging residents to take advantage of local destinations this summer and support their struggling tourism industries.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has spent $450,000 on a marketing campaign promoting local travel, which launched last month with the slogan "Stay Home Year 2020."
On Wednesday, the New Brunswick government announced a rebate program to support residents planning staycations in the province. The Explore NB Travel Incentive program offers a 20 per cent rebate on certain expenses on overnight stays in the province between July 15 and Sept. 30.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, asked people to be respectful of the local residents and communities during their travels throughout the region.
"As you set out to enjoy your summertime activities at home or afar, please continue to be safe," she said Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2020.
— With files from Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press