What to do now the NWT has a Covid-19 case and the border has closed

Last modified: March 21, 2020 at 6:33pm

The NWT closed its border to most people at noon on Saturday, shortly after confirming the first case of Covid-19 in the territory.

That’s a scary sentence and a lot of people have questions about what to do now. On this page, Cabin Radio is collecting answers to lots of different questions so you can find out more.

We have broken out this page into different sections based on who you might be and how you’re feeling.


The biggest advice right now is to be incredibly careful across the whole NWT. Keep your distance from others. Wash your hands as often as you can. Don’t touch your face.

Do everything you can to minimize the risk to you – think about the surfaces you’re touching and the places you’re going. Every action you take could help save lives, in every NWT community.

If you have any symptoms – cough, fever, difficulty breathing – call your healthcare provider and self-isolate immediately.

What does self-isolating mean? Great question and we have more on that below, but here’s the NWT government’s quick guide.

It’s now vitally important that all Northwest Territories residents do everything they can to follow the chief public health officer’s orders. Disobeying anything to do with those orders now carries a punishment of up to $10,000 and six months’ imprisonment.


If you see someone or know someone seriously violating the order, to the extent that they are actively placing other people’s health at risk, you can email a new GNWT address with details: (Think very carefully before reporting someone, and do not abuse this, or you’ll make things worse.)

The most important thing of all to understand is: we’re providing our best interpretation of the new rules, but we are not the chief public health officer or the GNWT. Please double-check with the GNWT in all instances and, if you are in any doubt at all, contact the GNWT direct for guidance.

Here are our questions and answers so far. Last updated: Saturday, 5:50pm MT

Got more questions? Ask. And you can catch daily live webcasts at 7pm explaining everything as simply as we can.


More: NWT government’s coronavirus website

For residents coming back
For other people coming in
For people already here
Help with self-isolating
Help with not panicking

If you’re a resident returning to the NWT

I’m a resident, will I be allowed back in?

Yes. Residents will be allowed in but you will have to self-isolate for two weeks in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, or Inuvik.

The NWT government is setting up special areas in airports and special checkpoints on the roads. You’ll get all the information you need there. (But you can prepare by reading on.)

I don’t live in any of those four communities – I live in a smaller NWT community. What happens to me?

If you have somewhere in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, or Inuvik to self-isolate, you’ll be told to go there and self-isolate for two weeks. If you don’t have anywhere to stay in those communities, officials who greet you on entering the NWT will arrange lodging for you. It will be free of charge. After two weeks you can continue to your home community.

Why is that happening?

To stop Covid-19 getting into smaller communities, which are the most at risk from the virus as their medical supports aren’t as strong.

Wait, what’s the definition of an NWT resident?

There is no official definition yet. We’re told that if you have an NWT address, that likely qualifies you. (It would be wise to have some NWT-related ID with you. If you left it in the NWT, get someone to photograph it and send you the photo.)

I heard I have to submit a self-isolation plan. What’s that?

Yes, every returning resident now has to do this.

Click here to see what the plan looks like. Public Health staff are awaiting your call on 1-833-378-8297 or by email at They can help you make your self-isolation plan and get back into the territory. (Currently people outside the NWT are having trouble making that number connect. Technicians are working on fixing it! Give it a little while then retry, and send an email in the meantime.)

So I absolutely have to self-isolate?

Yes (unless a Public Health official tells you otherwise – in that case, follow their advice). All residents are being told to self-isolate on their return to the NWT.

And if you don’t, you could be fined up to $10,000 and sent to jail. This is now an order, by law. It’s very serious.

But I have a medical appointment in Alberta. Or a grocery shopping trip from Fort Liard down to BC. That’s just a quick trip, right?

Cabin Radio was told anyone with medical appointments down south should contact whoever arranged that appointment and seek advice.

There is currently no finalized guidance for situations like Fort Liard, where the nearest large grocery store is across the border in BC. Officials have told Cabin Radio residents will be helped when they try to re-enter the territory and appropriate arrangements will be made. Get to the border checkpoint and follow instructions.

I have a question you haven’t covered here.

Seek advice from the GNWT. If it’s not about self-isolation or health, you can email for help. For self-isolation and health, use the resources elsewhere on this page.

This whole border closure is a decision made very quickly to respond to a fast-growing pandemic. It is not a work of art. There are all sorts of gaps, loopholes, and issues that are being addressed on a case-by-case basis.

The advantage of that is there are not many big checklists or thousand-page-long rulebooks. Instead, there are human beings doing the best they can to look after you and get you home. Contact them using the links on this page and follow their guidance. Be prepared to wait on the phone – we’re a small territory, we don’t have big call centres.

Non-residents trying to enter the NWT

I’m a tourist or someone just visiting. It’s not an essential trip.

In the nicest possible sense: go away. You won’t be allowed to cross into the NWT, either by road, plane, or boat. (Remaining tourists – and there are now very, very few – are being helped to leave the territory.)

I’m a mine worker or an oil worker. How does it work for me?

You will not be asked to self-isolate as standard. Instead, your company will conduct medical screening prior to your trip into the NWT which takes the place of self-isolation.

However, if you happen to experience any symptoms while in the NWT, you must self-isolate and contact a healthcare professional immediately.

And everyone in those industries should practice social distancing at all times, just like all the other measures we’re all taking to limit the spread of the virus. (Still don’t understand social distancing? See below.)

Who else is exempt from the whole self-isolation thing when they come into the NWT?

Air crew are exempt and supply workers getting vital goods into the NWT are exempt, because we need them to keep doing their jobs and we can’t lose them for two weeks at a time. But they are still being given strict guidelines, expected to socially distance themselves at all time, and asked to self-isolate if they feel any symptoms.

The same applies to healthcare workers and people supporting important, life-or-death services in the NWT (like electricity, for example).

People who are out on the land and happen to cross into the NWT while in the bush, then go back out again, are fine. (But you can’t cross into the territory on foot and try to get to a community. That’s not allowed.)

People who are already in the NWT

This is shitty and I’m panicking.

See “Help with not panicking” below. We’ve got you. It’s going to be OK. Keep doing everything you can to stop the virus spreading – there is a lot more advice for you below. Tune in to our shows, read our news, watch our video webcasts each evening. We are all in this together and we’ll keep you going. We promise.

I got back from a trip in the last 14 days. Do I need to self-isolate?

Yes. If you got back here on or after March 7, you do. And if you’ve been hanging out in close quarters with people at home, they should too, to be safe.

You’ll need to self-isolate from now till it’s been 14 days since you got back. (So if you landed on March 10, give it until March 24. Heck, go till March 25 and feel even better about yourself, but it is a legal requirement that you see it out to the 14-day mark.)

Does that mean a self-isolation plan and everything?

Yep. Even if you only have a few days of the 14 left to go. Sorry. Scroll up to the part about self-isolation plans, above, and go from there.

Do I have to self-isolate in one of the four big communities?

No, self-isolate where you are. If you can’t self-isolate there, contact Public Health.

Help self-isolating

I got back into the NWT. Now what?

Now we need you to self-isolate for two weeks. Here’s is an NWT government guide to self-isolating. You also need to complete that self-isolation plan and give it to the NWT government, if you haven’t already. It’s the law. It won’t take long, go do it. (See above.)

What does self-isolating mean?

The guide explains it. The basics are: keep yourself at home and don’t share any of your environment with anyone. That means having a bathroom all to yourself if you can; using utensils, plates, bowls, and pots specially set aside for you that other people don’t use; and not spending any time near any other people. If you so much as touch another human being, you’re not self-isolating.

Self-isolating really means being isolated. It is hard and not much fun, but it’s also the single most important thing in the world you can do right now, if you’re asked.

If you have to share facilities like a bathroom, everyone using those facilities should clean them as thoroughly as they can, as often as they can.

So if one person is self-isolating in our house, do the rest of us have to self-isolate?

Not unless that person has symptoms.

If you are in a house with someone self-isolating, as long as they really are self-isolating, you don’t have to. But we mean it about the isolation! They have to be completely cut off from you. Try never to be in the same room. Definitely don’t share facilities unless you absolutely have to, and if you do, clean the living daylights out of those facilities every single time.

If you just can’t do all of this – either because space doesn’t allow, or you as a family don’t want to – then you would be expected to all self-isolate together in the home, as that one person is not properly self-isolating.

It’s OK, we can do it. But if the person self-isolating develops symptoms, what do we do?

The moment anyone who is self-isolating has symptoms, they need to call Public Health and everyone in the house needs to self-isolate. No questions, no exceptions.

We’re self-isolating but feeling fine. Can we go outside?

Yes but remember you’re still self-isolating.

You can go outside to get some fresh air, stretch your legs, and walk the dog – but you still need to remain very far away from any other human being.

That means metres away. If you’re stopping to chat to people next to you, you’re doing it wrong. You must remain totally isolated and on your own, even outdoors.

Help not panicking

There’s a confirmed case in Yellowknife. Does everything change?

Very little, if anything, has changed. You need to be following all the same instructions as before, no matter where you live. Everybody should be acting as though the virus is already out there and doing everything they can to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbours.

I still don’t understand social distancing.

Imagine you have the virus. Now act like you don’t want to give it to anyone else.

What would you change about your life to make sure you didn’t spread that virus? You’d stop touching surfaces. You’d stay indoors. You’d cancel visits from friends and loved ones. You’d make sure there was no possible way that virus could get from you to anyone else.

That’s social distancing. Self-isolation is a step further but basic social distancing still means giving the virus no opportunity to get from you to anyone else. (Or from anyone else to you.)

Why aren’t they telling us more about the person who is infected?

That person is recovering and Public Health is tracing others who may have come into contact with them. Anyone who needs to is being asked to self-isolate. If that ends up being you, you’ll get a call.

What’s much more important is what we do in future, not what has already happened.

The biggest difference we can make now is by following all the instructions. Look for weak points in your daily life: where might the virus get in? What about the grocery store, or your trip to work, or ordering takeout? What are all the ways the virus could get into you or your home?

Think about those ways, then think about the steps you can take to close down those gaps. We all have to get groceries but we can behave differently: we can give people much more room at the grocery store. We can carefully wash everything we eat. We can wash our hands many, many times daily and avoid touching our faces. We can clean things that enter the house to protect ourselves.

We must take extraordinary steps to combat the virus. Do everything you can, and tell others to do the same.