The NWT moved to phase two of its pandemic recovery plan on Friday, creating a “travel bubble” with Nunavut as it did so.
The bubble means NWT residents can visit Nunavut without needing to self-isolate when they come back. It comes into effect immediately, the NWT government said.
Nunavut residents can now visit the NWT without self-isolating, but must still obey Nunavut’s rules on self-isolation when they return.
Meanwhile, people coming to the NWT to live, work, or study will now be allowed to proceed. Previously, similar requests were handled on a case-by-case basis by the Protect NWT hotline.
They must have documentation showing why they are moving to the NWT, and must self-isolate on arrival.
Tourism in the NWT is still not allowed if you’re coming from anywhere other than Nunavut. There is no such thing as a tourism exemption.
However, non-resident family members can apply for exemptions “to visit for the purposes of family reunification [or] for compassionate reasons, such as attending a funeral,” the NWT government said.
The territory, making clearer the changes of the past two weeks, stated on Friday that people entering the NWT who don’t qualify for any exemption “are not allowed to travel within the Northwest Territories” and “cannot proceed to any communities.”
If you have no exemption but decide to enter the territory anyway, you can’t be physically stopped. But Dr Kami Kandola – the NWT’s chief public health officer – said anyone who stays in the NWT despite not having an exemption would be given tickets worth more than $1,700 daily until they left.
In other words, the NWT acknowledged it cannot legally keep tourists or any non-exempted non-residents out. Instead, it has the power to make it extremely expensive to stay, with the aim of discouraging any such travel.
Dr Kandola said this was “stronger and clearer” than the previous measure, which let non-exempt people come to an isolation centre and apply for an exemption. That is no longer allowed.
The four isolation centres in Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, and Fort Smith will remain operational. Anyone entering the NWT must still self-isolate for 14 days in one of those centres, or at home if they live in one of those communities, unless they hold an exemption to that rule.
What phase two means
“It has been eight weeks since our last case of Covid-19 fully recovered,” Kandola said on Friday, thanking residents for their hard work.
The move to phase two of the pandemic recovery plan allows dine-in restaurants and movie theatres to open, with physical distancing restrictions in place.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed, including public events, as long as people stay distanced. Gym classes can return with size limits.
Offices can now have a maximum of 25 people per floor as long as staff can maintain a two-metre distance from each other.
That clears the way for some territorial government offices to reopen. The GNWT has previously said non-essential staff are likely to begin returning in phase two, though this hasn’t been confirmed.
There is no change to what can happen in your home. The limit of up to five people from outside the household, to a maximum of 10 people in the home, still applies.
Swimming pools still can’t open other than for instructor training, and post-secondary education facilities can’t reopen until phase three.
The NWT’s pandemic recovery plan, dubbed Emerging Wisely, has three phases – after which life in the territory returns to normal, or as near as is achievable.
The third phase is not expected to kick in until after an anticipated second wave of Covid-19 has been and gone in southern Canada, which experts believe to be some months away.
Earlier travel confusion
Friday’s news conference followed a week in which the NWT’s travel rules were thrown into confusion as Premier Cochrane on Monday told national CBC TV “tourism is on the table.”
The Premier appears to have misspoken, though there has been no clear confirmation of such. Senior territorial government staff have said Cochrane – asked by host Rosemary Barton if tourism was possible – “provided an answer consistent with her understanding of how the orders were being enforced at the time.”
That understanding seems to have been flawed, but it led to an admission that the NWT had in fact overhauled how its public health orders work on May 29, without telling anyone.
To avoid a legal challenge based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees mobility across the country, the NWT now lets anyone enter the territory. However, they must stay in an isolation centre and apply for an exemption if they do not possess one.
The NWT initially tried to claim this was how the public health order had operated all along, but was ultimately forced to concede there had been “a shift” in interpretation of its own rules.
On Friday, the territorial government said another amendment to its rules would be likely in the near future.
This next amendment will allow NWT residents who are supply workers, flight crew, or airline employees to enter and leave the territory for work in the same day without having to self-isolate on their return.
“They have minimal contact with other communities and therefore the need to self-isolate, so long as the right precautions are taken, is not necessary,” the NWT government said in a statement.