NWT health minister Julie Green on Tuesday declined to outline conditions under which the territory’s public health emergency could be lifted, instead pointing to a forthcoming updated pandemic recovery plan.
Answering questions at the legislature from Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler, Green said: “The end goal here is not to frustrate people, but to ensure our effective public health measures continue to be effective.”
Semmler has called for Yukon border exemptions that would let her Beaufort Delta constituents travel to Whitehorse.
“We need to know what risks are left,” said Semmler.
“We were told we crushed the curve. We’ve got vaccinations now. We’ve got public health contact tracing for an outbreak. We’ve got many things in place now. We as Northwest Territories residents need and want to know what more we have to do. What are the measures that need to be reached in order for us to come out of this public health emergency?”
Green refused to provide specific benchmarks that would justify ending the territory-wide state of emergency, which has been in place since mid-March 2020.
The state of emergency grants government ministers and the chief public health officer additional powers, allowing for measures like travel restrictions and limits on the size of gatherings.
The state of emergency expires unless it’s renewed every two weeks. The government issued its 28th consecutive renewal last Tuesday.
Green said the decision to extend the state of emergency was made by her alone – not cabinet as a whole – but she acted on the recommendation of Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola, who based the advice on technical risk assessments.
Green pointed to the May outbreak at Yellowknife’s NJ Macpherson School as an example of why it’s important to keep the emergency in place.
“What we learned in Yellowknife in the month of May is that everything can change overnight,” she said.
“One case at a school ultimately became 71 cases with 1,000 contacts and 43 households in isolation.”
Green said the territory is “still at risk” of travellers carrying Covid-19 across its border from provinces like Alberta, where the number of Covid-19 cases remains high.
Green told Semmler to await the latest revision of the Emerging Wisely document, the territory’s Covid-19 response plan, for specific benchmarks on when and how restrictions will be lifted.
A spokesperson for the NWT government said the revised Emerging Wisely plan is set to be made public during the week of June 7.