Coronavirus

First easing of NWT restrictions to include outdoor gatherings

Last modified: May 6, 2020 at 3:33pm


The NWT’s chief public health officer says outdoor activities and the reopening of businesses will be first on the list when some Covid-19 restrictions are eased.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Dr Kami Kandola said the final draft of a detailed plan to phase out pandemic restrictions in the territory is currently under review.

She said a legal review is also under way regarding how public health orders can be amended.

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“The sooner we get through these processes, the sooner we can start lifting these restrictions,” she said. 

Kandola said the government aims to release its strategy within the week. It will then work to address questions or issues before an amendment to the public health order comes into effect.

The plan will include details on when schools will reopen and when restrictions on indoor gatherings and travel will be eased.

Outdoor gatherings are a priority, Kandola said, as transmission of Covid-19 in outdoor settings is considerably less risky.

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Travel restrictions will remain through the summer tourism season. Kandola said maintaining tight border security is one of the factors that will allow other restrictions to be phased out. 

Higher-risk restrictions will be eased during later phases of the plan.

Kandola said the territory is in an “enviable” state compared to the rest of Canada as it currently has no active cases of Covid-19 and no evidence of community spread. But she said it’s important to move forward safely when it comes to reducing public health precautions.

“It’s hard on everyone, even my own family, so I’m sensing the frustration,” she said of current restrictions. “I consider the NWT my family too.”

She added: “All I ask is for people to hang on just a little while longer.”

Covid-19 will make wildfires more expensive

Meanwhile, officials at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have told MLAs this summer could be a costly wildfire season – in large part because of Covid-19.

The NWT released its forecast for the season earlier this week, predicting an average to above-average level of fire severity overall.

Mike Gravel, the NWT’s director of forest management, said even attacking the smallest forest fire can cost around $20,000. Some individual fires cost millions of dollars to fight – one in 2014, a terrible fire season for the NWT, maxed out at $4 million.

On average, the territory spends around $20 million each summer fighting wildfires.

This year, that number could go up.

The NWT is putting more money into “initial attack” – the first efforts to stop fires as soon as possible, even when there isn’t an immediate threat to people or property.

The aim is to cut down on smoke from longer-lasting fires (which could complicate breathing problems related to Covid-19) and reduce the need for many people to fight larger fires in close quarters, breaching pandemic restrictions.

That, however, will cost money for more air tankers, more crews in small communities, more backup firefighters, and more transportation costs.

Gravel told MLAs by video link that this year’s “proactive approach provides some insurance against the increased risk” of Covid-19.

He said the new strategy – attacking fires more aggressively when they start – could also “end up being a less-expensive approach in the long run if we can avoid sustained-action costs.”

Ollie Williams contributed reporting.

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