If you’re planning to leave the Northwest Territories over the Christmas holiday season, you may be figuring out how to accommodate 14 days of isolation in your plans.
The territory’s chief public health officer continues to warn that only essential travel outside the NWT should take place, but the lure of seeing family elsewhere may prove too strong for many residents.
New forms of rapid testing have been introduced by the territory and more are on the way. As of Wednesday, the average turnaround time for a Covid-19 test was said by the NWT government to have dropped below two days.
If those times continue to drop, and the territory is confident in the accuracy of its testing, could the standard 14-day self-isolation period – currently mandatory for almost anyone entering the territory – be changed to something shorter?
That would make this year’s complex holiday math simpler for residents, especially those for whom two weeks of self-isolation may mean their entire annual leave allowance.
“There are a lot of moving pieces on that and we’re watching what’s happening in the rest of Canada,” Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, said on Wednesday.
“We’ll see how the second wave levels off. That is a very good question and something we are exploring.”
Kandola said as Canada slides into winter, the likelihood is that the number of cases in the south will increase. In turn, that could raise the risk of importing a Covid-19 case into the territory, particularly if a lot of people choose to travel over the holidays.
“There’s a lot happening right now,” the chief public health officer continued. “Things can change pretty quickly. But we are looking at the trajectory of what’s happening and making calculated decisions on the risk of importation.”
Kandola had no timeline for when any change in isolation period might be announced.
“If the number of cases starts to dramatically increase, our risk of importation starts to increase,” she said. “If we get to a point where our risk is sufficiently reduced, definitely we would entertain that.”
Meanwhile, Kandola told reporters she was prepared to entertain the notion of a “travel bubble” with Atlantic Canada, where numbers of Covid-19 cases are significantly lower than in other provinces.
The practicalities of such a bubble are not clear. There are no direct flights between the territory and the Atlantic, and the NWT’s airline industry – already struggling to endure the pandemic – appears in no position to create one, though there may be enthusiasm among northerners.
Absent any such flight, travellers in an Atlantic bubble would have to pass through parts of Canada where cases of Covid-19 are on the rise.
Still, asked about the idea, Kandola said she was “open to exploring and discussing this further.”
“I’ve reached out to my fellow chief public health officers but this discussion involves multiple levels of government,” she said, adding any decision “needs to occur at a higher level than myself.”