Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola is telling NWT residents to re-evaluate their plans before getting on a plane this holiday season.
With a surge in Covid-19 cases in Nunavut and across Canada, Dr Kandola on Wednesday reiterated her position that non-essential travel outside the NWT is strongly discouraged.
“The second wave has come ashore in the North,” Kandola said. “The events of the last 10 days have shown just how quickly our fortunes can change.
“The recommendation to avoid non-essential travel has always been in place. If you have booked your travel and you’re still wanting to go ahead, then it’s really important that you follow whatever isolation guidance or restrictions there are in that jurisdiction, especially if there is increased Covid activity.”
Kandola also discouraged travel to the United States or any international destination, saying such action came with a lot of risk as case numbers rapidly increase in other countries.
She said the “only risk” faced by the territory was that people entering or returning will bring the virus in with them.
“This risk of importation has never been higher, and it will only grow in the coming weeks,” said Kandola, warning that southern provinces may struggle to keep up with contact tracing and NWT residents may only find out long after returning that they were exposed to Covid-19.
More than 200 self-isolation plans have already been filed with the NWT government for the holiday season as people prepare to return to the territory from elsewhere. Officials anticipate many more in the coming weeks.
The GNWT announced upgraded isolation measures on Wednesday. The entire household must now isolate if even one member returns from travel outside the territory.
Kandola said she did not expect the strengthened measures to result in more people using the territory’s four isolation centres in Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, and Fort Smith.
“People can find alternate arrangements and they can stay in their household. We’re not anticipating an increase in people using hotels unless they choose themselves to decide. It’s not something that we’re envisioning,” she said.
Low risk from Nunavut travel
No new Covid-19 cases were reported in the NWT on Wednesday. The territory has recorded 15 cases to date, of which five – all in the same Fort Smith household – remain active.
The Yukon reported a 26th case on Wednesday and instituted two-week isolation for anyone entering the territory, similar to existing requirements in the NWT.
Nunavut moved to 70 recorded cases on Wednesday, an increase of 10 in the past day.
The NWT closed its travel bubble with Nunavut on Monday after Nunavut’s case count sharply rose.
Quoting airport passenger logs, Kandola said 380 travellers from Nunavut had arrived and stayed in the NWT in the two weeks before the travel bubble closed. (Not included in that number are people who travelled from Nunavut through the NWT’s airports to other destinations.)
Anyone who recently travelled to the NWT from the Kivalliq region, hardest-hit by Nunavut’s recent outbreak, is ordered to isolate immediately.
Kandola said that was “a precaution” and the vast majority of recent travellers from Nunavut had travelled from the Kitikmeot, which she considered of “pretty-much minimal risk” compared to Kivalliq.
As of Wednesday evening it wasn’t clear how many of the 380 recent arrivals had come from Kivalliq. Kandola said staff were identifying and reaching out to those people “throughout the evening.”
Nunavut and NWT health officials are together working out which recent travellers may have come into contact with individuals in Nunavut who have since tested positive for Covid-19.
Kandola said there are people in the NWT who have come into contact with Covid-19 positive individuals from Nunavut. They are properly self-isolating and public health is following up with them.
“It’s a small number and it’s a precaution,” she said.
“We get reports all the time from people travelling down south who have been contacts of Covid cases, and it’s the same scenario. They have to isolate for 14 days.”
Anyone considered a contact of a Covid-19 patient is given a test for the virus on day 10 of their 14-day isolation.
Be mindful of gathering sizes
Kandola urged NWT residents to keep their gatherings small over the holidays.
“Covid-19 travels freely indoors and through crowds. The longer you are together, the more risk there is of transmission,” she said.
“The bigger the crowd, the wider the potential network of transmission. And with wider networks come real impacts for our communities and families.”
She urges those who have any symptoms or even “just feel a little bit sick” to get tested for Covid-19.
Kandola told self-isolating residents that getting a Covid-19 test does not mean they get to leave their mandatory 14-day isolation.
“Given where the second wave is going, and given that we’re going into the winter months, here in the NWT we will not be decreasing the isolation,” she said.
Those isolating can still go outside – provided they keep their distance from others – for walks and drives alone, or with others from the same household who are isolating together as a unit.
People can still drop off things to isolating residents outside their homes, and must remain at least two metres away.