Easing restrictions: How does the NWT compare to the rest of Canada?

A sign at Norman Wells' airport greets travellers
A sign at Norman Wells' airport greets travellers. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

There is increasing debate in the NWT about how long Covid-19 travel restrictions and distancing measures should remain in place.

Some doctors think social distancing should end, saying it causes more harm than good. Industry bodies have called for restrictions that hurt the economy to be eased.

Premier Caroline Cochrane has maintained her government won’t politically interfere with decisions made by the chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola. Kandola’s office says no immediate changes are planned.

But how do the NWT government’s pandemic recovery actions compare with other jurisdictions?



Although provinces and territories are opening up at their own pace, there are some commonalities among all 13:

  • Social distancing is in effect in all provinces, meaning the act of remaining two metres or six feet away from others. Masks are universally recommended in public spaces where distancing may be difficult. 
  • People feeling sick should stay home.
  • Canadians returning home from international locations are required to self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive back in Canada.

There are, however, key differences between how the provinces and territories have responded to Covid-19 and tried to balance health concerns with economic damage.

Here’s an overview of what’s happening in each jurisdiction, starting with the NWT.

Northwest Territories

More: The NWT’s pandemic recovery plan



The NWT has limited household gatherings to a “bubble” of five friends, with a maximum of 10 people in any one house. Outdoor gatherings are currently allowed for up to 50 people. Two-metre distancing is in place in all stores and public spaces. Masks are recommended in public settings.

Some restaurants are still offering takeout only, but others have opened with limited capacities. Yellowknife’s movie theatre remains closed, though expects to reopen in the near future.

While some sports have returned with modifications in place, others in the NWT – like hockey – have been told their wait may be months to a year or more before they can begin again, once all restrictions are lifted.

NWT schools remained closed after Covid-19 reached the territory in March. They are set to reopen on time this fall but with many distancing measures in place and a warning that schools may switch to remote learning “at a moment’s notice” if the virus returns to the North.

The territory has some of Canada’s toughest travel restrictions, in effect barring tourists and any other non-NWT residents unless they receive an exemption related to their job or to visit family.

Two weeks of self-isolation applies to virtually anyone entering the territory, with specific exceptions for supply workers and aircrew.


More: Nunavut’s Covid-19 recovery path

Nunavut – which has just one presumptive case of Covid-19, the lowest number of any Canadian jurisdiction – is cautiously allowing more facilities to open, with its government reiterating “the goal is to reach the destination safely, not quickly.”



Outdoor gatherings can hold 50 people while indoor gatherings have increased to 10 people. In private homes, there can be 10 people in addition to those who live there. Places of worship, community halls, and other communal spaces may only fill 50 percent of their capacity or 50 people, whichever is less. Gyms and pools have reopened for solo workouts and lap swimming.

Facilities for youth are open: playgrounds, daycares, youth centres, and day camps are running. Territorial parks are open for outdoor activities only. 

Theatres, churches, and retail workplaces now have added safety measures. Galleries, libraries, and museums have individual viewings – no group visits are permitted yet. Bars and restaurants can operate at half capacity, with last call for alcohol at 9pm.

Dental clinics and specialized doctors’ offices have resumed service. Long-term care facilities have reopened and allow one or two immediate family members with each resident at a time. 

There is currently a travel ban in effect. Prior to boarding a plane to Nunavut, one must self-isolate in a bigger city for two weeks. Those who wish to enter Nunavut must write to the territorial government, complete a declaration form, and have it approved. The only exception is residents of the NWT, who do not need to self-isolate upon arrival.

Closed since March 17, plans for the reopening of schools in the fall are still being finalized. 


More: Yukon’s plan to lift restrictions

In phase two of reopening as of July 1, those in Yukon must follow the “safe six” – six tips to stay safe during Covid-19 – which include hand-washing and staying at home if you’re feeling sick.



Residents of BC, the NWT, and Nunavut do not need to self-isolate upon arrival. Canadians coming from other provinces may come providing they self-isolate for 14 days on arriving. Those entering the airport must be wearing a non-medical mask or face covering.

Travel is permitted throughout the territory but local restrictions must be checked before going to smaller communities and trips to rural areas must be limited. 

The border to Alaska is closed to all non-essential travel. Americans can travel into Canada if they’re going to Alaska or going from Alaska to the rest of the USA, but must follow a designated route given to them at the border. 

Outdoor social gatherings can be held with up to 50 people and indoor gatherings can take place involving groups of 10 or fewer. People can combine their household with another to make a two-home “bubble,” even if it is over 10 people. 

Bars and restaurants can provide dine-in services with no maximum occupancy provided social distancing is followed. Takeout is also offered. Personal grooming services have reopened and pools are open as well.

Schools are set to reopen in the fall, with plans still being developed. Each individual school, in cooperation with the Yukon government, needs to create a unique reopening plan – much the same as the NWT’s strategy.

British Columbia

More: BC’s Covid-19 response

BC is one of the more progressive provinces in reopening. Already in phase three, BC is allowing travellers from other provinces and territories to visit without self-isolating. Visitors are subject to the same restrictions as BC citizens. Some smaller Indigenous communities are not allowing any visitors, and everyone must travel in a safe manner. 



The US border is closed to all non-essential travel. Those travelling from the United States to Alaska must drive straight through and self-isolate during any overnight stops.

Overnight camping in BC parks and the backcountry is open. Hotel, motels, and other sleeping accommodations are welcoming guests, with added security measures. 

Schools reopened in BC on June 1, with parents having the option to send in their child gradually or part-time. Full-time in-class learning will happen in September, if it is safe to do so. 

Post-secondary schools are working with the BC government to come up with individual plans on how to reopen, with many institutions opting to continue with online learning for the fall, only allowing on-campus activity if it is essential for education.

Seniors in long-term care facilities may have visits from one designated family member or friend. Retail, gyms, hair salons, childcare, and day camps – as well as restaurants and pubs – have all been open since the middle of May.

The film industry has also reopened in BC, allowing productions where employers establish safety protocols.


More: Alberta’s relaunch strategy

Alberta is sitting at stage two of its reopening strategy. The province will use enhanced measures in smaller local areas if an outbreak occurs, to ensure the entire province is not set back. 



Albertans can attend social events indoors with a maximum of 50 people, socially distanced. Two hundred people are permitted at “audience-type community outdoor events,” like firework displays or rodeo and sporting events. The limit for indoor and outdoor seated events is 100 people for services like arts and culture performances, and certain wedding and funeral services. 

There is no limit on capacity for worship services, restaurants and bars, and casinos, but regular two-metre distancing applies. Libraries, movie theatres, communal spaces like community halls, as well as fitness centres and indoor sporting facilities have reopened. 

More flexible ‘cohorts’ have emerged, where members may not always remain two metres apart. Households can interact with up to 15 other people, performers can be in contact with 50 people (such as a cast rehearsing for a play), and sports teams can resume mini leagues with 50 players. People may be a part of a sports or performing cohort in addition to their household cohort.

Non-essential travel into the province is not recommended until they move to stage three.

Schools are currently closed. There are three scenarios Alberta can roll out when it comes to allowing students back to school in the fall. The options range from solely in-class learning, at home learning, or a blended approach. The province will determine what plan to use by August 1.


More: Saskatchewan’s reopening plan

Saskatchewan is in phase four (of five) with staggered reopening dates for several services. As of July 9, casino and bingo halls can reopen, and on July 16 racetracks and rodeo-related activities will be allowed. 

The size of indoor and outdoor public and private gatherings sits at 30 people. Restaurants and licensed establishments can open at 50-percent capacity. Retail, personal care services, gyms, worship services, beaches and theatres are all open. 



Parents have several options to help their children beat the heat as day camps, parks, outdoor pools and spray parks are all open, and recreational sports have returned.

Working from home is recommended across all five phases. 

Northwestern Saskatchewan has a higher risk of Covid-19 activity, so the lifting of restrictions may vary compared to the rest of the province. 

Those going to Saskatchewan must self-monitor for 14 days, and only self-isolate at the first sign of any symptoms. 

Schools were closed indefinitely as of March 20. Schools are set to resume in September, with all students from prekindergarten to Grade 12 returning to the classroom. The province has a backup plan if Covid-19 risk escalates and in-class learning is not an option.


More: Manitoba’s plan to restore safe services

Manitoba is in phase three of its reopening strategy but, if public health results deteriorate, is prepared to pause measures and reintroduce previous restrictions. 

Indoor gatherings may host up to 50 people, while outdoor gatherings sit at 100 people. Faith services, cultural gatherings, weddings, and funerals need to follow these recommendations as well as those of the venue. 



Restaurants and bars must follow social distancing measures, but do not have a maximum capacity. Retail and other recreational services are open, and team sports are allowed to continue.

Those travelling to Manitoba from designated areas of western Canada and northwestern Ontario do not need to self-isolate for 14 days if they do not show symptoms. Travellers from all other Canadian cities must self-isolate for two weeks when they arrive.

People employed by the film industry or professional sports teams returning to work do not need to self-isolate if they are not displaying symptoms.

Manitoba is currently expecting in-class learning at schools in the fall, with teachers returning on September 2 and students filling the halls on September 8. The province has multiple scenarios prepared in case the virus worsens, reverting to online learning or a blended approach. 


More: Ontario’s plan to reopen the province

Ontario is currently in phase two (of three) of its reopening plan. The province has seen reopening in “regional sections” as some areas of the province were doing better than others. The Greater Toronto Area was the last to move to phase two.

Social gatherings sit at 10 people, who must maintain the two-metre social distancing policy with people not from their household. 

Places of worship may only have 30-percent capacity. Outdoor dine-in services at restaurants – such as patios, curbside, and parking lots – have reopened, and takeout is available. Indoor dine-in services are not open yet. 



Ontario has reopened malls, restaurants, drive-in movie theatres, personal care services, and drive-in and drive-through excursions. Campsites and beaches have also reopened. Some cities, like Ottawa, have enforced a mandatory mask rule in all indoor public settings.

Recreational sports have not been allowed to resume yet. Only outdoor recreational facilities and training for sports teams that can be socially distanced are allowed.

There are no official travel restrictions in Ontario. 

Come September, the province hopes students will be able to return to schools. Parents have the option to send their children physically back into schools or can opt for them to complete remote schooling from home. School boards must have a concrete reopening plan by August 4. Some may opt to take a blended approach, being taught online and in-person.


More: Quebec’s plan for gradual resumption of activities

Quebec has seen its fair share of trial and error throughout the Covid-19 pandemic as the hardest-hit province in the country.

Gatherings must be limited to no more than 10 people from three households. Two metres must be kept between people who are not from the same household. Indoor and outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed in certain public places. 

Tourism establishments are allowed to resume activities and water parks, beaches, bars, spas, and casinos are open. Gyms, arenas, and pools are also open.



Regional checkpoints have been removed with the exception of two, but people are requested to avoid travelling across regions as much as possible. There is no restriction on interprovincial travel.

Quebec was the first province to reopen schools, in mid-May. In the fall, students will attend classes full-time in compliance with set student ratios. Classes will be broken down further into subgroups of six students or fewer so students can spend time and closely work with their counterparts without distancing concerns. A one-metre physical distancing rule applies between each subgroup. 

Teachers will move between classrooms based on the subject, while students will remain in the classroom.

Atlantic Canada

As of July 3, residents of the Atlantic provinces can travel throughout the four provinces without having to self-isolate and can cross interprovincial borders provided they haven’t left the provinces in the last 14 days.

They must not be awaiting the results of a coronavirus test nor have come into recent contact with a Covid-19 case. They must not have been advised to self-isolate nor be experiencing two or more common symptoms of coronavirus.

Identification is checked at the provincial border in most cases.

Visitors from other Canadian provinces and territories must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival and may then travel within the Maritime provinces. 

Newfoundland and Labrador

More: Newfoundland and Labrador’s pandemic recovery plan



The province is currently at level two of its plan. The province has a “double bubble” policy allowing people to socialize with those from other households.

Gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed at funerals, burials, and weddings, provided physical distancing is maintained. Outdoor gatherings also have a limit of 50 people.

Gyms, arenas, and pools can open with specific restrictions. Playgrounds are allowed to be used by children and families can partake in overnight camping once again. 

Bars, lounges, cinemas, and performance spaces have all reopened with reduced occupancy. Restaurants are reopened with enhanced health and safety measures – buffets and self-serve options are strictly prohibited. 

Faith-based activities may have a maximum of 50 people or 50-percent capacity, whichever is less. They are being encouraged to continue holding online or “drive-in” sessions instead. 

In terms of interprovincial travel, exemptions are being granted for individuals coming to work. Other than that, all others are prohibited from entering the province (though note the Atlantic Canada provision above).

The government says students will be returning to classrooms in the fall but has yet to outline what that entails or how it will look. Newfoundland and Labrador missed its deadline to release a plan, which was due for release by the end of June but has yet to be presented to the province.

Nova Scotia

More: Nova Scotia’s restrictions



Nova Scotians can form a social group of up to 10 people without social distancing. It is not required that the 10 are exclusive, but it is strongly recommended to keep the group consistent. 

Indoor gatherings can hold up to 50 percent of the venue’s capacity, up to 200 people. Outdoor events can hold up to 250. Closer-knit occasions like family events or gatherings not regulated by a business may hold up to 50 people indoors or outdoors. All gatherings must be properly socially distanced.

Personal care services, childcare, vets, and specialized doctors have reopened for in-person care. 

Restaurants, bars, and casinos cannot permit any group with more than 10 people, must stop service by midnight, and close by 1am. Alcohol must be kept at the table and delivered by staff. 

Religious services can be held in-person, virtually, or in a “drive-in” fashion. 

Those headed to NS from outside the travel bubble will have to self-isolate for 14 days once they arrive. This also applies to temporary foreign workers and offshore workers. Fishers coming in must also self-isolate but have the option to do it on their fishing vessel if they will be there for the duration of two weeks.

Nova Scotia closed its schools earlier this year, and the province is currently considering three options. Classes will be conducted in-person, online, or a mix of the two. A plan is scheduled to be released later this month.

New Brunswick

More: New Brunswick’s recovery plan



Easily one of the more open provinces, NB residents have access to a lot of regular recreational activities. “Household bubbles” include close friends and families, and families can have indoor and outdoor visits with members inside long-term care facilities. 

Controlled venues with seating, like restaurants and live performance venues, must take contact information for everyone who attends (the same applies to any gatherings over 50 people) to help with tracing in case of another Covid-19 outbreak.

Personal care services are open, hockey rinks and indoor recreation facilities are open, and so are gyms and yoga and dance studios. The same applies to local swimming pools, saunas, and water parks. Pool halls, bowling alleys, theatres, bars (with no seating), casinos, and bingo halls have reopened. Children are able to attend overnight camps. 

NB residents returning home from work in another Canadian city don’t have to self-isolate but have to self-monitor. Those travelling to check on a property they own can visit if they self-isolate.

Those within the travel bubble have no need to self-isolate. 

NB students will return to school with a mixture of schedules and start times. Younger grades will be separated into groups of 15 or less, while older grades will be regular-sized in physically distanced classrooms. High schoolers will have a blended approach, with “at least every second day” at school but some time at home with online learning.

Prince Edward Island

More: How PEI is lifting restrictions

PEI recently entered phase four – the province has been lifting health restrictions in three-week periods. 



Gatherings can consist of no more than 50 people indoors or outdoors, and the host must fill out an operational plan in order to be allowed to proceed. There is a limit on personal gatherings of 15 people indoors and 20 people outdoors.

Visits to long-term care units may occur with up to two individuals at a time. Facilities that are used daily like retail, restaurants, personal care services like piercings and tattoo parlours, and casinos are all open. Many of these services have been accessible for the past several weeks.

Those needing to travel to PEI from outside the Atlantic Canada travel bubble must self-isolate for 14 days. All unnecessary travel into the province is prohibited. 

Teachers will return to schools on September 1 and students on September 8, where physical distancing is a priority. Students will work with the same group of peers as much as possible, and groups will be socially distanced from other groups. Recess and lunch breaks will be staggered, as well as drop-off and pick-up times. This is subject to change if there is another outbreak, where students would complete schooling online instead.

Ollie Williams contributed reporting.