Top NWT health officials explain why liquor stores remain open

Liquor stores across the Northwest Territories remain open during the coronavirus pandemic. Health officials say the alternative would be even worse for the healthcare system.

The territory’s six stores controlled by the NWT Liquor and Cannabis Commission are operating to reduced hours and have a range of physical distancing measures in place.

However, some residents have questioned why – when gatherings are being strongly discouraged and many retailers asked to close – liquor stores remain in business.


Speaking on a live CBC North call-in show on Thursday, Chief Edward Sangris of Dettah asked: “Shouldn’t the government do something about it and close the liquor stores?”

Chief Sangris was posing his question to Dr Kami Kandola, the territory’s chief public health officer.

Dr Kandola said there was both “a harm and a benefit” to closing liquor stores during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do know that we have a significant population that is alcohol dependent,” Kandola said.

“The struggle we have is if we close the liquor store, we may have benefited around the social gathering aspect – but we may have caused harm by having an excessive amount of patients going into withdrawal and impacting on the healthcare system, or even consuming alcohol-containing substances that are not meant to be consumed as beverages.


“We felt that the harm caused by closing the liquor stores would outweigh the benefits.”

Territorial medical director Dr Sarah Cook, who also participated in the CBC call-in show, backed up that decision.

“It’s trying to weigh the risks,” Dr Cook said. “We are very concerned about our healthcare capacity.”

Cook explained that if people dependent on alcohol are unable to access it, that could “create a significant strain on the healthcare system.”


“Withdrawal is very serious and can require significant resources when we are already taxing our healthcare system,” she said.

“The risk simply outweighs the benefits at this point.”