Post-COVID outlook

Post-COVID outlook

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Mina Atia
Communications Coordinator

In November 2020, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce hosted the Road to Recovery Summit. Two speakers brought forward their priorities for Nova Scotia’s economic and community health. Business Voice interviewed Peter Nicholson, former Chief of Staff Policy for Prime Minister Paul Martin and retired founding president of the Council of Canadian Academies and Jeff Larsen, lead of Creative Destruction Lab-Atlantic at Dalhousie University to dive deeper into their recommendations for the province’s plan to bring swift economic recovery. See for more information.

The year 2020 is behind us. The fleeting excitement of the new year, hopeful anticipation and energizing resolutions of January are dwindling. Now February is half-way gone, and a clearer outlook for this year is beginning to form. Yet we have no concrete plan for recovery.

“We will likely be living with the virus for another year until mass vaccinations have proliferated,” says Larsen.

As the provincial plan for vaccine administrations is rolling out in phases, pop-up sites offer an innovative way to screen for COVID-19. It’s extremely helpful in containing the decreasing spread and preventing future outbreaks.

“We dropped the Hammer and did the Dance,” says Larsen. “The strategy was to first bring the blaze under control; reduce it to a smoulder; contain the perimeter; and then focus on spotting and snuffing out the sparks the moment they appear.”

After the state-of-emergency order, along with the famous call to stay the “blazes” home and a multitude of restrictions, Nova Scotians were kept safe and healthy compared to the rest of the country.

“This was a critical first step that many jurisdictions did not do as well,” says Nicholson.

The second step was to protect the border of Nova Scotia. This procedure should’ve been adapted by the rest of Canada to strictly keep the pandemic at bay. It quickly became the main objective of sister Maritime provinces as it was evident by the formation of the globally unique strategy of the Atlantic Bubble.

“Perhaps the greatest innovation and entrepreneurship during the pandemic has been the Atlantic bubble and the rapid antigen testing led by Nova Scotia’s public health and medical officers of health, and all of those working with them,” says Nicholson.

Photo credit: James Rapaport, Photographer – Instagram: @jamesrapaport

Testing, tracing and repeating was the third step in Nova Scotia’s effective plan. The smart rapid antigen screening is the current strategy to detect the virus in asymptomatic cases. “Screening testing” is necessary in identifying possible spread due to the invisible threat asymptomatic cases pose. This step then becomes test, trace and isolate the spread in groups at higher-than-average risk of exposure and transmitting to others who are vulnerable. The health authority is planning to continue these pop-up test sites and is asking for community volunteers to keep them running.

“We believe that Nova Scotia and Canada can increase screening tests even more,” says Larsen. “But Nova Scotia is ahead of the game by already embracing screening of asymptomatic persons through rapid antigen testing.”

The province’s quick response and tough decisions led to the containment of the spread. But right now, as the vaccination plan is underway with the possibility of it lasting into next year, we need to start planning for the post-COVID world.

“Over the short-term, we need to focus on continued rapid screening, rigorous personal hygiene and physical distancing, smart border strategies and efficient roll-out of the vaccine province-wide,” says Larsen

The Halifax Chamber has been advocating for rapid testing at the airport to help detect the arrival of the virus at our border. This could also help with the long-term strategic plan to eradicate the virus from the province. We can then focus on the recovery plan and rebuilding our plummeting economy.

“We believe there are six core policy priorities for the medium- to long-term,” says Nicholson.

First off, we need to embrace the digital transformation. We’ve made some strides, but we’re only at the beginning. Universal broadband access is a major priority, one the Chamber has long advocated for, especially considering the digital divide the pandemic brought to the forefront.

“We need equality for students in digital access, and we should consider providing free Chromebooks for students in Grades 3, 7 and 10 plus upgrade digital training for teachers,” says Nicholson.

Healthcare has been and remains the number one priority for our provincial government along with the health and safety of Nova Scotians. It’s only reasonable as an immediate if not natural next step to get ahead of its future by starting to build its digital and virtual footprint.

The second priority in the recovery plan is for the province to offer better and more inclusive care as well as a new economic opportunity by implementing a digital healthcare infrastructure.

“Initially, we should focus on digital health applications on rural areas and for care of the elderly at home and in care facilities,” says Larsen.

“Then, we must make the Electronic Health Record a top priority. It is another ‘table stakes’ for a digital health strategy.”

Third priority in policy is for Nova Scotia to continue developing and acquiring talent as it is the province’s most valuable resource. A skilled workforce has been a provincial strategy for population growth in the past few years; however, a lot more could be done.

“Nova Scotia could eliminate tuition at NSCC for Nova Scotian residents; skills beyond high school are now ‘table stakes’,” says Nicholson.

“The province should also steadily increase N.S. percentage share of Provincial Nominee immigrants, as long as we can absorb, and proactively identify and recruit individuals with demonstrated entrepreneurial talent: the real job creators.”

Supporting local, or as Larsen and Nicholson like to call it “localhood” promotion, has been a unique advantage for Nova Scotia as a fourth priority to rebuild our local economy.

“The province should create a ‘localhood’ community development fund for main street improvements, local food and cultural attraction as well as recreational spaces and facilities,” says Larsen.

Photo credit: James Rapaport, Photographer – Instagram: @jamesrapaport

Taking climate change more seriously than before, while making a profit from it, becomes a fifth and crucial priority.

“We need to work with the other Atlantic provinces to implement the Atlantic Loop, which is a generational transmission infrastructure project that would enable clean electrification for the future of Atlantic Canada,” says Nicholson.

And lastly, but certainly not least, the province needs to catalyze innovation as its ultimate source of social and economic value. This means supporting key innovators and accelerators like Volta and Ignite Labs.

“The number, but more importantly the quality, of the innovation and entrepreneurship is staggering and impactful,” says Larsen.

Researchers at Dalhousie’s Canadian Centre for vaccinology are hunting for vaccines. Dalhousie’s Centre for Water resources have implemented innovative new wastewater testing as an early detection warning system against community spread.

The private sector is also stepping up with Rimot Health’s contactless screening system for employees and SimplyCast developing a simple and safe way for restaurants, stores and other businesses to efficiently record customers for contact tracing.

SonaNano has developed a rapid antigen test for screening purposes. Takaya has developed a better fitting N95 mask that addresses issues with fit amongst health workers. Tenera Care has a tracking and patient safety wearables for real-time monitoring and analytics in long-term care facilities, which can be deployed for best-in class contact tracing to protect the vulnerable population.

It’s clear we don’t have a shortage of innovation in our province to support our communities in containing the spread, providing immunity to our citizens and boosting our economic revival.

“The province can reallocate payroll rebate FDI incentives to “Innovation Vouchers”, redeemable at N.S. companies/institutions, and shift early-stage innovation investment from public to private management as the local “ecosystem” matures,” says Nicholson.

“We should also build on the Oceans Supercluster model to create ‘proto clusters’ in certain sectors like Agrifood, Cleantech and Healthtech.”

As an overall outlook, these recommendations provide hope for what’s yet to come after vaccination becomes a consistent process in our province. But until then, innovation and entrepreneurship are the natural resource that must be fostered and cultivated.

“We have suggested these policy recommendations for Nova Scotia, recognizing that they would need to be refined and honed before implemented,” says Larsen.

The six priorities recommended by Larsen and Nicholson provide a roadmap for the province to transform this post-COVID outlook into a concrete plan to rebuild our economy and communities. They also offer the opportunity to take advantage of our envious situation as a province and propel ourselves into an immensely farther prosperous future. ■

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