The Northwest Territories is considering relaxing restrictions on gathering sizes as more of its population receives Moderna’s vaccine against Covid-19.
NWT health minister Julie Green acknowledged the loosening of those measures was being discussed as she faced questions in the legislature on Wednesday.
Lesa Semmler, the MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, described fear that skilled professionals will leave the territory as Covid-19 public health measures continue.
Semmler noted the territory has been stuck in phase two of its pandemic recovery plan since June 2020. She said restrictions on travel, gatherings and businesses were wearing on many people.
“Even the youth are having mental health issues because it’s harder and harder to socialize,” said Semmler.
“I’m afraid we’re going to see families planning to leave the NWT, those who are vital to the education of our children, to the healthcare of our loved ones, more businesses close, if we remain in phase two within the NWT into the spring and summer.”
In response, Green said the territory had already achieved several milestones needed to move to phase three of its recovery plan. Those include implementing a robust rapid-testing strategy and a strong contact-tracing system.
However, she said, the second wave of Covid-19 had not yet come and gone in Canada and the United States – the final requirement for phase three.
“I recognize that people are really feeling Covid fatigue in the dark and the cold,” said Green, “and they’re really looking forward to getting together with other members of their community and their families, both within the NWT and outside the NWT.
“Much of what is driving our response is happening outside Canada, outside the NWT.”
The minister said she could not commit to relaxing restrictions as that decision lies in the hands of the territory’s chief public health officer. She noted new variants of Covid-19 have been identified, while the extent to which vaccinated people can transmit Covid-19 to others is still being studied.
Green did, however, say the NWT’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, had discussed increasing gathering sizes in the territory once the vaccine has been widely distributed.
While there are delays to shipments of the Moderna vaccine across Canada, the NWT government says it’s still on track to vaccinate 75 percent of the eligible population by the end of March.
“If we can stick to our containment and vaccination plan then there will be loosened restrictions within the NWT, but I expect the border controls will remain in place for some time,” Green said.
“Let’s see how the vaccine goes and take it a step at a time.”
Currently, outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed as long as people can maintain physical distancing. For indoor gatherings, households are allowed up to five guests as long as the total number of people does not exceed 10.
Green said some activities slated to open up in phase three are already being allowed in the NWT.
Bars and public pools, for example, are listed in the territory’s recovery plan as not being permitted to open until phase three, but are currently open with some restrictions.