As pandemic restrictions begin to ease and Covid-19 vaccination rates climb across the country, some are questioning why the Fort Liard-British Columbia border is still closed to most incoming traffic.
The NWT office of the chief public health officer (CPHO) told Cabin Radio when the border will reopen depends on reaching even higher vaccination rates in the territory, how the rest of Canada is doing, and what the community of Fort Liard wants.
People in the NWT are currently allowed to exit through the border if they make an appointment on a Tuesday or Friday between 10am and 2pm – but they can’t return to the territory the same way. Only commercial vehicles carrying essential supplies or essential services can enter through the BC border, while all other traffic has to enter the territory through an Alberta-NWT border or the Yukon-NWT border.
When asked in mid-June about the BC border, a spokesperson for the CPHO said they would be working with the Covid Secretariat and community leadership in Fort Liard to plan for the reopening.
“Changes to border crossings will take into account vaccination rates in NWT border communities as well as case counts in neighbouring jurisdictions. We anticipate that border crossings will be opened fully when all restrictions are lifted by the CPHO, in accordance with the recently released Emerging Wisely 2021 plan,” they wrote in an email.
The NWT’s reopening plan, Emerging Wisely, states all pandemic restrictions will be lifted when 75 percent of NWT residents aged 12 years and older are vaccinated; over 66 percent of the total NWT population is partially vaccinated, including children under 12; and Canada’s seven-day average of Covid-19 cases is under 1,000.
These goals are estimated to be met by mid- to late fall.
Cathy Kotchea, the mayor of Fort Liard, said “the planing is already starting” to reopen the border crossing. The hamlet is waiting on the territorial government to propose a date to meet with local leadership, which will include the Acho Dene Koe First Nation.
“We’re just waiting to see what arises [from the meeting],” Kotchea said, adding she understands the aim is to reopen the border once 80 percent of Fort Liard residents are fully vaccinated.
Currently, 59 percent of Fort Liard residents aged 12 years and older are fully vaccinated, while 71 percent are partially vaccinated. Among residents in the hamlet aged 18 years and older, 67 percent are fully vaccinated and 73 percent are partially vaccinated.
When asked what she felt residents wanted to see happen with the border, Kotchea said opinions are mixed.
“I think everyone’s kind-of excited for it to be open to start moving around [so they can] visit family in other provinces and territories,” she said.
“The feeling is balanced out, some people are more afraid than some others.”
The hamlet was the first place in the NWT to see a community outbreak, when six people contracted and then recovered from Covid-19 in January 2021.
Reopening Fort Liard’s border is also dependent on the Covid-19 situation in Northern BC, where the average daily case rate is currently higher than in many southern areas of the province.
Vaccine coverage in Northern BC also trails behind the rest of the province.
In the Fort Nelson region, just 52 percent of residents aged 12 years and older are partially vaccinated. In Peace River North and Peace River South, just below the Fort Nelson region, only 49 percent of residents are partially vaccinated.