Cameras are now monitoring the barricaded stretch of Highway 7 between Fort Liard and the British Columbia border after residents complained the closure was being ignored.
The highway has been entirely closed to ordinary traffic since March 24. However, the NWT government acknowledged it has been forced to upgrade its enforcement after some drivers found ways to get through.
Closing the highway is intended to reduce the number of entry routes into the territory, making it easier to enforce travel restrictions.
Virtually all people crossing into the territory are required by law to self-isolate in one of its four largest communities for two weeks. Forcing people entering at the border with BC to isolate in Hay River, a 10-hour drive away, was considered impractical.
Instead, drivers bound for the Dehcho must proceed via Alberta and Highway 1.
Ivan Russell, representing the NWT’s emergency management team, said initially a “decision was made to lock [the highway] off and put up a gate system. We felt that was sufficient enough.”
However, Dehcho residents soon began complaining that some drivers found it simple to open the gate and carry on with their journey.
Earlier this week, Fort Liard’s mayor told the CBC residents were not taking the highway closure seriously. There were also reports of alcohol bootlegging at the border.
“Once we heard there were other issues around that gate and potentially folks getting by, we installed a camera system to be monitored to keep an eye on that gate,” Russell said on Saturday.
Russell said if the cameras still don’t stop people breaking the law by ignoring the highway closure, other measures will be looked at. The nature of those measures was not specified.
No Dehcho Covid-19 cases so far
Also on Saturday, Premier Caroline Cochrane said stricter enforcement may soon follow to address issues like those at the BC border.
“We have to deal with border crossings where we are hearing illegal activity is happening,” the premier said.
The Dehcho has yet to report a case of Covid-19. However, one traveller who ignored the self-isolation rules en-route to his cabin at Lindberg Landing was publicly denounced by the chief public health officer for his actions.
Across the border, there have so far been 21 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 in BC’s northern health region. That region includes Fort Nelson, the nearest BC community to the border with the NWT, though it’s not clear how many – if any – of the cases came from that community.
Alberta’s northern health region, bordering NWT Highway 1 to the south, has recorded 68 cases. High Level, the area closest to the territory, has recorded one of those cases. There are none reported by the Alberta government in the Wood Buffalo area.