The NWT’s premier and chief public health officer have asked students and other northerners outside the territory to refrain from returning for the holidays.
Thursday’s recommendation from Dr Kami Kandola and Premier Caroline Cochrane echoed a plea last week for residents to avoid leaving the territory over the Christmas period.
Covid-19 cases are surging in many parts of Canada but the NWT had no reported active cases as of Thursday morning.
Kandola told reporters it’s her “strong recommendation” that those planning to visit family in the NWT next month “explore connecting digitally instead.”
“We are in uncharted territory and, in recent weeks, the North has seen how quickly the second wave can wash up on a once-calm shore,” she said, referring to a recent outbreak in Nunavut.
The GNWT suspended its travel bubble with Nunavut, in place since June, in response to that territory’s increase in cases. Nunavut now has more than 150 confirmed cases, having started the month with none.
“One of the most powerful steps to take is to avoid any travel outside the Northwest Territories if you can,” said Kandola.
“Limit non-essential trips into the territory as well, especially from areas experiencing high levels of community transmission.”
Across Canada, the number of Covid-19 cases has risen sharply in the past month.
Ontario recorded 1,478 new cases on Thursday while the CBC reported roughly 70 percent of Manitoba’s total Covid-19 deaths had happened this month.
The Atlantic travel bubble ended earlier this week. New Brunswick issued an orange-level alert on Thursday and instituted self-isolation for those returning from travel outside the province.
“Throughout the Northwest Territories, throughout Canada, throughout the world, the risk is high,” Premier Cochrane said. “Our second wave is hitting harder than I think anybody would have projected.”
Cochrane said her own children, studying down south, would not be returning to the NWT in December. She called that “a tough decision.”
“It’s going to be tough for parents and for students,” she said. “Unless it’s essential travel, we’re recommending that people not return home, or make sure that they follow the orders and self-isolate if they do.”
According to Cochrane, there were 605 self-isolation plans being reviewed and 1,079 travellers in isolation as of November 21.
A total of 27,244 self-isolation plans have been submitted to Protect NWT since the beginning of the pandemic.
Changes to self-isolation protocols?
The NWT is still studying potential changes to self-isolation protocols.
Communities like Fort Simpson and Fort Liard have expressed a desire to let community members isolate at home, which currently can’t ordinarily happen.
A report summarizing community feedback about isolation measures was published by the GNWT on Tuesday. It showed many local leaders were open to changing isolation rules, but there was little consensus as to what exactly those changes might be.
On Thursday, Cochrane said the territorial government is in the “final process” of reviewing the report and will decide on possible changes “shortly,” but did not provide a definitive timeline.
Kandola, meanwhile, said sewage testing for Covid-19 is officially up and running in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, and Hay River.
So far, no cases of Covid-19 have been detected using that method.
Asked if she is considering tightening border restrictions or moving the territory back to more restrictive public health measures, given the spike in cases surrounding the NWT, Kandola said no – but she may if the situation changes.
“If we are continuing to just see travel-related cases, no evidence of community-wide transmission, compliance with self-isolation – we can stay at phase two,” she said, referring to the phases of the territory’s Emerging Wisely pandemic recovery plan.
“Hopefully we can stay at phase two throughout the holidays, but it all depends on our collective action.”