Since March 21, the Northwest Territories has placed unprecedented restrictions on the way in which people enter the territory. What effect is that having?
Designed to combat Covid-19, the restrictions have seen Highway 7 between the NWT and British Columbia entirely closed off. Travellers entering the territory elsewhere must, with a few exceptions, submit to mandatory 14-day self-isolation in either Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, or Inuvik.
On Wednesday, the territorial government provided some numbers that track how many people have been crossing into the NWT daily.
Russell Neudorf, recently hired by the NWT government to help lead its Covid-19 emergency management team, gave the figures as he briefed the territory’s regular MLAs by video link.
Neudorf’s numbers show that for most of the week beginning April 5, fewer than 10 private passenger vehicles per day were recorded at the NWT’s checkpoint outside Enterprise, welcoming travellers driving up from Alberta.
Around 20 to 40 commercial transports passed through the checkpoint daily, though those dropped off markedly to just a handful over the Easter weekend.
There was virtually no passenger vehicle traffic entering the NWT via the Dempster Highway at its Fort McPherson checkpoint during the same seven-day period. On average, 10 to 20 transports came through that checkpoint each day.
The statistics presented by Neudorf suggested a little under 100 people, in total, entered the NWT by road between April 5 and April 12. Between April 6 and April 13, 187 people are shown to have entered by air. (Ordinarily, a couple of full flights from Edmonton would bring in a similar number of passengers.)
The NWT government says no more than 60 people arrived into the territory by air in any one day last week.
On April 8, just 12 people flew into the NWT all day – eight into Yellowknife and four into Fort Smith. Forty-nine people were expected to fly into the territory on Tuesday this week, including 24 to Yellowknife and 25 to Inuvik.
Unless exempt from travel restrictions as essential workers, those travellers will be ordered by law to self-isolate for 14 days in a larger community.
Neudorf told MLAs the territory currently has 193 rooms reserved for isolation at hotels in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Inuvik. Eighty-six of those were occupied as of Tuesday.
There were 57 people isolating in Yellowknife, 23 in Hay River, 21 in Inuvik, and five in Fort Smith, for a total of 106 current occupants. So far, 161 people have completed their 14-day isolation in one of these facilities and checked out. (More than 1,000 others have completed self-isolation at home, without the need for a hotel stay.)
Ron Bonnetrouge, the Dehcho MLA, on Wednesday expressed concern from constituents in Fort Providence that “we’re seeing lots of Alberta plates and other provincial plates coming in and out of our territory.”
“You’ve got to understand, there is deep concern from our small communities and they are wanting to take matters into their own hands,” he told Neudorf.
“We are closing the border but, at the same time, still need to obtain essential services,” Neudorf replied.
“We are turning away anybody who is not following the order or does not need to come into the Northwest Territories,” he said, adding essential workers are being asked to show documentation to prove their need to continue their journey.
The NWT government says 255 complaints about people not following restrictons have so far been filed by residents to its Protect NWT enforcement line.
Of those, 42 remain active and 189 have been closed. Another 24 were closed “due to lack of information.”
There have been 2,487 self-isolation plans so far filed with the territory. More than half were filed in Yellowknife.