The NWT has closed Highway 7 to all traffic at the BC border while most non-residents on Highway 1 will be turned back to Alberta under strict rules designed to fight Covid-19.
Limiting entry to the NWT, then ordering returning residents to self-isolate for two weeks in one of four larger communities, is designed to protect Elders and more remote regions of the territory.
Self-isolation must take place in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, or Inuvik, the chief public health officer has ordered. Breaking that rule can be punished by a fine of up to $10,000 and six months’ imprisonment.
In the Dehcho, restrictions escalated quickly between Saturday and Tuesday.
What was initially a checkpoint near the BC border became a complete highway closure by Tuesday evening. The NWT government acknowledged asking Fort Liard residents to self-isolate in Hay River when they crossed the border simply wasn’t practical.
Mayor Hillary Deneron of Fort Liard said the mandatory self-isolation rules weren’t being obeyed while Highway 7 remained open.
“They aren’t enforcing it,” Deneron said earlier this week. “As of Saturday, when the rule came into effect … it was monitored 24-7. But they were just taking names, licence plate, driver’s licence numbers – of just the driver, not the passengers in the vehicle.
“They were just telling people, ‘you have to isolate in Hay River.’”
Deneron said the lack of enforcement created a problem in the community.
“There have been people since the rule came into effect [who were told to self-isolate] that were still out in the community – in public places, in the stores,” she said.
“So I was in contact with our MLA and saying, like, who’s enforcing this?
“You can’t just tell someone this is the rule, this is the law, and then not have anybody enforce it.”
To Deneron’s knowledge, nobody had gone from Fort Liard to Hay River to self-isolate.
“It’s just really concerning,” added Deneron. “As the mayor of Fort Liard and a business owner, I can’t stress this enough to people, the seriousness of this. Because people aren’t taking this serious.
“It’s up to the leadership to step up, and work together, and really inform our people of what’s going on and the seriousness of this, because at the moment it’s not being taken serious.”
Fort Simpson family rerouted to Hay River
One family from Fort Simpson is taking it seriously.
Barb Moreau left on March 19 to pick up her daughter, Tonya, her partner Dillon, and the couple’s pet cat George from Grande Prairie, Alberta. On the way, she dropped off her niece, Victoria Nirlungayuk, in Edmonton to help Nirlungayuk’s sister, Malorey, pack up after MacEwan University closed its doors to students.
Moreau then rushed back toward the NWT with Tonya, Dillon, Victoria – and George the cat – then waited for her niece and son, Ethan to join the group in High Level before crossing into the territory.
Eleven-year-old George the cat had the adventure of a lifetime as his family was sent into isolation in Hay River on March 22. Photo courtesy of Barbara Moreau
With Malorey and Barb’s son Ethan in another vehicle behind them, the group arrived at the weigh scales in Enterprise. Moreau says an official stopped them and asked for their names and licence plate numbers.
The group was then given a piece of paper containing orders from the health authorities and advised to call 1-833-378-8297, a hotline for residents needing to self-isolate on their return to the NWT.
Placing a call, Moreau says the travellers were told they had no choice but to go to Hay River or Yellowknife – despite their having drawn up an isolation plan to stay at Moreau’s sister’s home in Fort Simpson for 14 days.
“We knew the protocols and procedures, and all six of us agreed,” Moreau said. “I shared this with the man and he said, ‘Sorry, you have to be quarantined in [Hay River].
All six are now in isolation at a Hay River hotel. Moreau chose not to disclose which hotel to maintain some privacy while they wait out the 14 days.
The NWT government has yet to confirm which buildings are being used as isolation shelters in each of the four communities, though the Town of Inuvik on Monday said the Mackenzie Hotel was its dedication isolation facility.
Malorey Nirlungayuk, left, and Victoria Nirlungayuk are in isolation in Hay River after attempting to return to Fort Simpson with their aunt, Barbara Moreau. Photo courtesy of Barbara Moreau
Moreau and family say being in isolation isn’t a bad thing. She is happy the government is taking measures like this.
“I would rather be in a hotel room for 14 days than see our people sick,” Moreau said. “And so far, we are all healthy.”
And those 14 days of isolation? She said after travelling across Canada for the last 10 years sharing teachings, she was looking for a break.
“I prayed a couple months ago and asked Creator to give me a two-week rest,” she said. “I guess I should have been more specific. I am laughing at myself.
“I always teach people ‘be specific in your prayers’ because if you are not, Creator will give it to you in ways you did not expect. Lesson learned.”