Dr Kami Kandola thinks new restrictions she issued this week are probably the last. From here, it’s likely to be a matter of easing up: the questions are when, and how.
Dr Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, said on Tuesday: “If we have very good control of who’s coming in and we continue to have no cases, no evidence of community spread, we can actually move forward and start relaxing some restrictions internally.”
That message came a day after Kandola tightened restrictions on workers entering the NWT. She said that was likely to be her last major change to the territory’s pandemic-related measures.
Kandola said some of her measures, however, must remain until a Covid-19 treatment or vaccine is available.
“Any restrictions around the border and travel would have to remain in place and as such, the public health emergency would have to remain in place,” she said.
“And this would be likely until we get an effective vaccine or antiviral.”
Though travel restrictions will remain, Kandola said a transition plan to be released soon will outline how some other measures can be eased.
“Looking at other measures such as … mass gathering, that will be detailed in the way forward,” she said. “That is where we can start looking at easing restrictions. And we have more information on that, and it will be given to you soon.”
Kandola spoke on the same day the NWT extended both its public health emergency and state of emergency, which together give Kandola and the territorial government a set of extraordinary powers to respond to the pandemic.
Both declarations will now last until at least May 12.
Can NWT ride out future waves?
Calls have been coming in to the territory’s Protect NWT hotline since amended travel restrictions came into effect on Monday afternoon. Now even essential workers entering the NWT are required to have written permission if they need to work instead of self-isolating for 14 days.
“We have to realize that when we put a new order into effect, we need to allow employers to have time to review the order and get up to speed,” said Kandola.
“So there’s a lot more flexibility within this week to accommodate requests and to provide the support they need, but the order is in effect and Protect NWT is ready to implement it.”
The new order for essential service workers will also strengthen the way in which worker movements in and out of the territory are tracked.
“The whole point of putting this order into place so that we can actually track how many essential service workers are coming through the NWT,” said Kandola.
She believes that by keeping close control of its borders, the territory can watch other jurisdictions in Canada for second and third waves of the virus.
“We have the fortune – along with a very few other jurisdictions – to be in containment mode,” she said. “As long as we don’t have community transmission, as long as we have tight border security … we can still maintain enough containment.”
Kandola said medical professionals are prepared for those waves should they hit the territory.
“It’s not time to look back and congratulate yourself, it’s time to look forward and be prepared, possibly for a second and third wave,” she said.
“And so [Health and Social Services and the Hay River and Tłı̨chǫ health authorities] are still continuing to work. They still continue to meet and they still continue to ramp up their plans.”
Hay River flood factored in
As flooding season approaches, Premier Caroline Cochrane said her government was working with the Town of Hay River to ensure residents can safely evacuate while those returning to the territory have somewhere to isolate.
Hay River is one of four designated isolation communities for people entering the NWT, alongside Yellowknife, Fort Smith, and Inuvik. That system is designed to ensure smaller communities are protected from Covid-19.
The last time the Hay River flooded was May 2008, when 600 people were displaced. The community experienced its biggest flood in 1963, which was severe enough to see most residents relocated to safer ground upstream.
This year, there are concerns another flood may be in the offing.
“We’re actively working with the Town of Hay River and other communities who are facing flooding or potential flooding coming on,” Cochrane said.
“At this point, we need to continue some of the isolation units for people that are coming into the Territories to keep them out of the smaller communities. If we need to evacuate some of the people in Hay River we will open up some of the accommodations in Yellowknife to accommodate them as well.
“We’re here for the people of Hay River, we’re watching it closely, and the GNWT will assist the community of Hay River to meet the needs of the residents … whatever that may be.”