The Northwest Territories is closing its borders to most people from Saturday, the territorial government announced in a news release late on Friday evening.
Chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, will make an order effective Saturday prohibiting all travel by air, land, and sea into the territory – with limited exceptions.
The decision is the most significant action by far yet taken by the NWT to combat the growing threat of the global coronavirus pandemic. The territorial government says it is made possible by the declaration of a public health emergency earlier in the week, giving the chief public health officer sweeping legal powers.
The NWT currently has no confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Anyone returning to the territory who qualifies for entry will be ordered, by law, to self-isolate for 14 days in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, or Inuvik.
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Those who disobey the order face a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for six months.
“This measure will be required to ensure protection of residents of our smallest communities as people return north,” said the territorial government.
“There will be measures to support cases of people who may not have access to accommodations in any of these communities.”
The order means there will be no way to reach a smaller NWT community from outside the territory, even if you live there, without first self-isolating for two weeks in one of the four larger settlements.
The following exceptions to the border closure will be granted entry:
- NWT residents
- People working as part of the supply chain getting vital goods and food into the NWT
- Flight crews
- Medical travel patients from Kitikmeot
- Healthcare professionals, law enforcement, and those who support services that, if interrupted, could endanger residents’ lives, health, or safety
- Workers building GNWT infrastructure
- Mine workers and oil workers coming up from the south
- People who cross the NWT border while out on the land, as long as they don’t enter any communities
The Northwest Territories does not have borders to close in the sense of a country. However, the order achieves the same effect, limiting entry only to those who meet the criteria above.
The NWT government said it would shortly issue further guidance to residents, import and export workers, flight crews, and “persons who support essential services” (like those coming to provide childcare or helping the Covid-19 response).
Dr Kandola’s order will also require anyone already in the NWT who entered in the past 14 days to self-isolate in their current community until that two-week period expires.
“All individuals will be required to complete a self-isolation plan. Further details on this measure will be forthcoming,” the territory stated. It’s not clear what this plan will look like or how the NWT will ensure people adhere to their plan.
Kandola expects to issue the order on Saturday but will not do so “until all operational measures are in place to ensure it is implemented in the most orderly fashion possible,” the NWT government’s statement continued.
Before the order is issued the NWT will redeploy staff, finalize how to communicate the closure to everyone involved, and create a plan for helping those who arrive home.
A news conference is expected on Saturday once final preparations are in place.