The Northwest Territories could move to ban gatherings by law if residents don’t start respecting guidance to help slow the spread of Covid-19.
The territory’s chief public health officer said “nothing is off the table” as she hit out for a second time at residents who spread rumours and ignore physical distancing advice.
Dr Kami Kandola recently asked all NWT residents to stop holding gatherings of any size, whether indoors or outdoors. But her request was not a legal order.
Dr Kandola does, however, have the power to turn that into an order – punishable with a fine and jail – if she chooses.
Currently, the only order punishable by law is her restriction on travel. A $10,000 fine and six months in jail can be handed to people who break restrictions on entering the NWT and self-isolating.
Speaking just after the NWT confirmed its second case of Covid-19, Kandola said: “For those of you feeling invincible, we are receiving reports from the RCMP about crowded house parties taking place in communities around the NWT.
“This is not the time for parties. If you are organizing them, you are bringing unnecessary danger to your community.”
Asked if an order banning gatherings was imminent, Kandola said: “We’re looking at that right now. We are considering all of our options and undertaking the necessary discussions.
“If we find people are not following orders, nothing is off the table in finding ways to increase compliance.”
For the second time since the pandemic gripped Canada, Kandola directly addressed residents spreading rumours and warned they were hurting the territory’s ability to respond to Covid-19.
“Rumours damage our response. Your friend from town does not have better info than our public health professionals,” said Kandola.
“When we [investigate rumours], we are taking time away from our response.”
So far, Kandola’s office has investigated more than 80 complaints related to compliance with her order restricting travel and mandating self-isolation for returning residents.
People with “specific and credible” complaints about people ignoring the current travel restrictions, or disobeying self-isolation orders, are told to email the NWT government with details.
Of complaints received so far, 58 were looked into and the cases have been closed; 10 were “non-actionable,” Kandola said: and 15 are being investigated.
Meanwhile, Kandola warned it will be weeks before the current physical distancing guidelines are in any way relaxed.
“As long as the rest of Canada is still increasing in its cases, even if we stayed at two cases, we still can’t relax our public health measures,” she said.
“If Canada reaches a peak, flattens its curve, and decreases the number of new cases, then we can look at relaxing public health measures.
“But that time is not now, and definitely not in the next four weeks.”