The Northwest Territories issued an amended public health order restricting travel into the territory on Monday, tightening up the rules regarding exempted workers.
From March 21 until Monday, the NWT ordered all returning residents to self-isolate for 14 days on entering the territory but granted exemptions to workers like those in essential services, corrections officers, and those working on NWT government construction projects.
Previously, that exemption meant there was no legal requirement for workers in those categories to self-isolate.
The rewritten order, published on Monday, comes with a catch for those workers: they must now self-isolate for 14 days, like everyone else, unless their employer receives written permission from the chief public health officer for the employee to head to work.
Even with written permission, they must check in regarding their symptoms every four days till two weeks are up. That rule now applies to all returning residents too, even if they’re not in those lines of work.
The NWT government said in a news release these were “targeted changes … to keep residents safe.”
The territory has no active cases of Covid-19, a statistic in part attributed to the decision to close its borders to many travellers more than a month ago.
“There’s only one shot you get at containment, and I’m proud of the work our territory has done to achieve it,” said Diane Thom, the health minister, in a statement.
“All this doesn’t happen by itself, and we still have a lot of work ahead to keep us in containment while a vaccine is developed.
“But these kinds of targeted measures are needed in order to look at relaxing restrictions at home.”
A vaccine is not expected to arrive until at least 12 to 18 months have elapsed.
However, the NWT’s chief public health officer – Dr Kami Kandola – has suggested some restrictions could gradually ease in four to six weeks’ time if no further cases of Covid-19 are identified within the territory. There have been five to date and all five patients have since recovered.
The amended order is twice the length of its predecessor and appears to carry more detail, following criticism from civil liberties groups that earlier orders had been too broad and vague.
For example, the paragraphs governing people who cross into (or out and then back into) the NWT while hunting on the land are now more carefully worded.
How exactly did the rules change?
While Dr Kandola says restrictions may ease in future, Monday’s announcement marked a tightening.
Kandola has said the easing of restrictions can only happen if measures at the border are stepped up and new tests arrive that can return much quicker results.
Faster tests are expected to be available in two to three weeks’ time. Monday’s rewritten order attempts to deliver on the other half of Kandola’s wish list by taking steps to enhance the rules incoming workers must follow.
The new rules – which are in immediate effect – apply to:
- essential workers like healthcare workers, postal workers, peace officers, corrections officers, parks officers, and emergency responders;
- people providing childcare or other forms of care on behalf of essential workers; and
- construction workers on territorial, municipal, and Indigenous government projects.
Anyone in those categories – previously exempt from the full force of travel restrictions – must now, on crossing into the NWT, self-isolate for 14 days in one of the territory’s four larger communities: Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, or Fort Smith.
Before they arrive they must file a worker self-isolation plan, an adapted version of the self-isolation plans initially issued by the NWT government last month.
Workers in these characters must now also receive an approval document from the chief public health officer prior to entering the territory.
Employers are legally obliged to ensure their workers complete the 14 days of self-isolation before beginning work.
If an employee must work before then, the employer has to request written permission from the chief public health officer for that to happen. Only once that is receive can the person head to work.
What’s the change for returning residents?
If granted permission to work before their 14-day isolation period has expired, workers entering the NWT must follow a list of social distancing requirements including the wearing of face coverings, restrictions on travel unless work-related, and a requirement to self-isolate when not at work. (They must have been socially distancing themselves for two weeks prior to entering the NWT, though it’s unclear how this can be enforced.)
They must also file a symptom check form with Protect NWT – the territory’s hastily created agency overseeing the restrictions – on days two, six, 10, and 14 after entering the territory.
That new rule also applies to returning NWT residents, who must self-isolate as before but are now required to report every four days as above.
The NWT government says it won’t be responsible for finding companies’ employees somewhere to self-isolate while in the territory. The company in question will have to do that. Companies are told to submit all the relevant paperwork two weeks before their employee is due to arrive.
The rule changes don’t apply to supply chain workers (like those who drive trucks bringing essential goods north) or aircrew. Those workers must socially distance themselves if in the NWT for 36 hours or less, or self-isolate when not working if in the territory for longer than that.
The usual penalties – up to a $10,000 fine and six months in jail – apply to individuals who break the order.
“The purpose of this shift is to put additional protections in place to mitigate the risks inherent in welcoming out-of-territory workers who may be traveling from locations where Covid-19 community spread has occurred, and track where they are and what they’re doing when in the NWT,” said the territorial government in a statement.
“Dr Kandola has indicated that ramping up risk reduction related to out-of-territory travel, alongside tightened border measures, are the first pieces which must fall into place as the territory looks toward a relaxing of public health measures.”