Coronavirus

Northwest Territories declares first-ever state of emergency


The NWT government has declared a territory-wide state of emergency, saying it doesn’t mean things are significantly worse but will free up extra powers and resources.

This is a step up from the public health emergency declared last week. A territory-wide state of emergency gives the municipal and community affairs minister, Paulie Chinna, new authority to control agencies and deploy resources.

This is the first time an NWT-wide state of emergency has ever been declared.

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The territory’s emergency plan states this kind of declaration allows Chinna, as the minister, to “do all acts and take all necessary action required to deal with the emergency.”

The NWT government made the announcement on Friday but said the state of emergency had been signed by Chinna on Tuesday. It will last until at least April 7.

“This decision does not indicate a significant change in circumstances or an increased risk to the people of the Northwest Territories,” said the NWT government in a statement.

“The need to declare a state of emergency at this time is to make it more efficient to deploy resources to protect residents and enhance our response to the orders made by the chief public health officer.”

The territory’s emergency management leaders will have “the authority to control and direct all persons, including the GNWT and public agencies involved in emergency management plans or programs under the Emergency Management Act.”

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In practice, that could mean procuring food, water, fuel, and medicine; giving extra help to local authorities; or taking extra steps to improve public awareness of what to do.

More: From the GNWT – what emergency managers will do

The minister can also force communities to put emergency measures in place and add more travel restrictions, among many broader powers – most of which aren’t likely to be used in this circumstance.

Premier Caroline Cochrane said: “This isn’t something we are needing at this point … but it does take a few days to get this in place. This is really proactive so, if we get into a position where we need to have more authority, we have it instated already.”

Cochrane said declaring a state of emergency would ensure the territory’s officials “have all the tools they need to do their jobs to protect and care for residents.”

Chinna, in prepared remarks, said: “Now is a time for us to move forward, calmly and steadily. It is a time for all northerners to join together and support each other.

“Follow the advice and directions of health officials and emergency responders. Let’s be kind to one another and, as we have done so many times before, let us come together as a community to face this challenge together.”

Still one confirmed case as of Thursday

As of Thursday morning, the NWT had one confirmed case of Covid-19. There had been 558 negative tests and 295 more were awaiting results.

Friday’s announcement was the latest escalation of measures designed to stop the coronavirus spreading.

The territory closed its borders with the rest of Canada to most people last Saturday.

Only residents and certain classes of worker are allowed to cross into the NWT, and even then almost all are required to self-isolate for two weeks in one of the territory’s four largest communities.

Highway 7, connecting British Columbia to the NWT near Fort Liard, was entirely shut off to regular traffic on Tuesday. Vital supply vehicles and enforcement or emergency vehicles are still allowed through. All other traffic from the south must use Highway 1, where a checkpoint is staffed around the clock.

The chief public health officer had earlier this week urged NWT residents to cancel all gatherings of any size, indoor or outdoor, formal or informal. Schools are remaining closed until the fall.

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