The Northwest Territories’ health minister on Wednesday declared a territory-wide public health emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Minister Diane Thom said she had made the decision on the recommendation of the NWT’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola. The declaration will be in effect from March 18 to April 1.
Declaring an emergency is primarily a legislative tool that opens up extra resources and powers for the NWT to use. There are still no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the territory.
The declaration will allow the chief public health officer to “take strong, binding actions to protect all Northwest Territories residents,” a statement from the NWT government read.
The territory said it was working to control the spread of the virus over the next 60 days, saying this was “the most crucial period as the territory works to slow spread, flatten the curve, and keep our residents safe.”
Kandola said: “We’re doing it now, and quickly, so that we’re not faced with a complete shutdown of all businesses because of a widespread outbreak.”
As of Wednesday, Kandola said, 153 tests for Covid-19 in the NWT had come back negative to date. At least 119 more tests are awaiting analysis. The wait for results is now around seven days, up from three to four days last week.
“We are fortunate that the territory has not yet had a case,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane at a news conference. “This has given us a chance to learn from other jurisdictions… and given us a head start.”
The declaration gives Kandola expanded powers to order the restriction or prohibition of travel within the NWT. Such orders would be legally binding.
No such new restrictions were immediately included in Wednesday’s announcement. Non-essential travel is already strongly discouraged across Canada.
The move also allows Kandola to call in additional aid, fast-track the licensing of extra medical professionals coming north, take steps to bolster the delivery of medical services, and procure extra supplies and equipment.
Such declarations can only last 14 days under NWT law. However, an emergency can be “re-declared” as often as necessary.
“This is the right step to take to protect all Northwest Territories residents from the spread of Covid-19,” said Thom in a statement. “Nothing is off the table when it comes to keeping our residents safe and our healthcare system strong.
“We urge all residents to do their part by following all advice from healthcare professionals every single day and supporting each other as we all change our lifestyles in response to the pandemic.
“All residents should keep informed on the latest health information and stay calm while we rise to this challenge together.”
Establishments in Yellowknife continued to close on Wednesday as restrictions tighten. The Black Knight and Monkey Tree pubs each announced they would cease operations until further notice, as did the city’s Boston Pizza, which will maintain takeout service. The Woodyard, Bullocks Bistro, and Copperhouse all announced some form of closure on Tuesday.
British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta – all of which have confirmed cases of Covid-19 – have each declared public health emergencies in recent days. Yukon declared an emergency earlier on Wednesday.
Kandola urged residents: “If you’re sick stay home, avoid contact with others, and call your local public health or healthcare centre. Wash your hands – a lot. Keep at least two metres between yourself and others.”
Kandola and other senior NWT government officials were due to hold a further briefing for reporters at 2pm on Wednesday.