Keeping people isolated for two weeks in four regional centres has cost the Northwest Territories more than $1.3 million to date.
The total includes the cost of accommodation, security, food, staffing, and transportation at locations in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Inuvik in March and April.
The isolation centres are designed to stop Covid-19 reaching smaller communities by forcing people entering the NWT to spend the disease’s two-week incubation period in a larger urban centre.
Residents re-entering the NWT who need an isolation centre have their stay paid for by the territorial government.
In Yellowknife, the Days Inn hotel was initially the designated isolation centre. Other hotels to have been used include the Explorer Hotel and Chateau Nova. Stays at those hotels cost the territorial government $171,977 in March and an estimated $499,828 in April (the territory says April figures have yet to be finalized).
The Mackenzie Hotel is Inuvik’s isolation centre. Stays there cost the NWT $184,976 in March and a projected $345,575 in April.
Hay River’s isolation centre was initially the Cambridge Suites hotel. A variety of local hotels have since been used. The GNWT paid $80,287 to cover Hay River isolation stays in March and an estimated $43,551 in April.
Lastly, Fort Smith is using the local Aurora College residence as its isolation centre. As the college is already a territorial government facility, it has cost only an additional $3,000 per month to operate.
Cabin Radio asked how many people have so far used each of the centres. The territorial government did not release that information.
As of Wednesday, more than 3,000 self-isolation plans had been filed with the territorial government. However, many of those people would have isolated within their own homes in one of the four larger centres, or potentially in employer-provided accommodation.
Nunavut scraps plan to charge residents
In Nunavut, the question of who pays for isolation centres resulted in that territory’s government trying to charge some residents and then swiftly backtracking over the past week.
Nunavut’s isolation policy is slightly different, requiring two weeks of isolation outside the territory before travelling back in.
Initially, Nunavut’s government said residents who left the territory for non-essential reasons would be asked to pay at least $2,100 to cover the cost of their isolation stay before returning.
However, Premier Joe Savikataaq said on Wednesday that policy had been scrapped before coming into effect.
George Hickes, Nunavut’s finance minister, said trying to bill residents would have been difficult. Savikataaq said: “We don’t want to undo all the hard work we have done.”
NWT not planning changes
In the NWT, Premier Caroline Cochrane says there is no intention to start charging residents for their isolation centre stays, even if their travel was non-essential.
“At this point we haven’t looked at that. If that becomes an issue as we move forward, it might be something we have to look at,” Cochrane said on Tuesday.
“If we do have people that are making [non-essential travel] a regular habit, we would have to look at it. But that isn’t something we’ve decided at this point.”
Cochrane said the NWT’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, had in fact been hearing from residents that they wanted more isolation centres, not fewer.
“She has had some requests to open up [centres in] small communities,” said Cochrane. That won’t be happening either, she said, as the centres must remain in larger communities to provide a barrier between Covid-19 and smaller communities where advanced medical care doesn’t exist.
The policy of using isolation centres will remain in place, Cochrane said, “until we have health centres in place that can deal with it.”
Correction: May 8, 2020 – 15:34 MT. This article initially reported that the Days Inn and Cambridge Suites were the only hotels being used for isolation purposes in Yellowknife and Hay River respectively. While this was initially the case, the GNWT has since used other hotels in each community. This report has been updated to reflect that.