With a rush of returning travellers expected in the new year, the territorial government said on Tuesday it was preparing for an increase in the number of NWT Covid-19 cases.
Dr Kami Kandola told reporters she anticipated a “significant number” of NWT residents returning from Christmas travel during the week of January 3. On top of that, many essential workers will be travelling to cover holiday shifts.
With about 6,600 cases occurring daily across Canada, Kandola said the risk of importing the virus will be high.
“What we hope is that these cases will be contained only to the traveller, or at worse to the household, if people follow through on the self-isolation protocols,” the chief public health officer said.
The territorial government has advised against non-essential travel in or out of the territory since the beginning of the pandemic.
Self-isolation has been the territory’s primary defence against community spread of the virus thus far. Since late November, the territory has instructed entire households to isolate for 14 days if even one member travels outside the territory, with few exceptions.
However, the financial burden of isolation is about to shift.
As of January 5, the GNWT will no longer pay for stays in the territory’s isolation centres “unless that travel is essential.”
That’s likely to mean at least some residents rushing to return home before January 5 from travel deemed non-essential, knowing they face a hefty accommodation bill otherwise.
On Tuesday, Kandola said health centres will have the staff and equipment to handle an increase in the number of Covid-19 tests after the holiday season.
Premier Caroline Cochrane, speaking at the same news conference, stressed the importance of isolation as a barrier against the virus and urged vigilance.
“With the vaccine arriving in our territory in the coming months, you may begin to think it’s OK to become relaxed about following the orders that are in place,” Cochrane said.
“However, I can’t stress enough that this is not the time to let our guard down.
“When we don’t follow the rules, we begin to put our health system at risk. We need to think about the people who make our health care system function: doctors, nurses, specialists – the staff who, day in and day out, take care of us when we need them the most.”
Staying closed after Christmas
In Yellowknife, one downtown business owner planned action to protect employees from elevated risk after Christmas.
Janet Pacey, owner of graphic design and production firm Signed, told Cabin Radio she will keep the doors to her business closed to the public for two weeks after the office itself reopens on January 4.
“We’ll still be here working, but people will need to email or call. There’ll be no contact,” Pacey said.
Signed, which specializes in promotional materials like signs and stickers, closes on Christmas Eve.
Pacey decided to implement these measures as some of her employees – herself included – are immunocompromised.
“We’re just making sure that we’re keeping them safe,” Pacey said.
“There’s no reason after the holidays that we really need to go shopping and all that sort of stuff. You might as well realize that we’re in a pandemic again, and that we all need to do our part to stay safe and keep others safe.”
A range of other Yellowknife businesses – including the Co-op grocery store, Sutherland’s Drugs, and Roy’s Audio Video – each said they currently have no plans to adjust their Covid-19 protocols. All stores contacted said they were continuing to monitor the situation and would make changes as necessary.
Vaccine one step closer
Health minister Julie Green on Tuesday said NWT government staff were “working tirelessly to develop a robust vaccine rollout plan that will reach each and every NWT community sooner rather than later.”
The NWT expects to receive 51,600 doses of Moderna’s vaccine between January and March 2021, enough to vaccinate 75 percent of the territory’s adult residents. (Two doses of the vaccine are required per person.)
Moderna’s vaccine was approved for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration last Friday. Green said Canada is “likely days away” from similar approval.
Previously, Kandola stated vaccine priority would be given to four categories: Elders, those with pre-existing medical conditions, essential workers, and residents of remote Indigenous communities – especially those without local healthcare supports like dedicated nurses.
Kandola on Tuesday said the four categories will be further broken down based on those with compounding vulnerabilities – for example, seniors with pre-existing medical conditions.
Information about the vaccine will be available in all of the territory’s official languages, a request made by many Indigenous communities during consultation with the GNWT on vaccine rollout.
The territory has received two specialized freezers to store doses of the vaccine – one at the Inuvik Regional Hospital and one at Yellowknife’s Stanton Territorial Hospital.
Green said portable freezers to help transport the vaccine to smaller communities are on their way.
In the meantime, Kandola again urged NWT residents to stick to the rules.
“Follow all the advice that is given to you,” Kandola said. “It could save a life. That life could be yours.
“Please do your part to celebrate safely over the holiday season while we do our part to keep you safe.”