Dr Kami Kandola speaks at a news conference on April 21, 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The NWT’s chief public health officer is introducing stricter gathering limits in Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilǫ, and extending restrictions in Whatì and Behchokǫ̀.
On Wednesday afternoon, Dr Kami Kandola said she hoped the restrictions will act as a “circuit breaker” to limit the spread of Covid-19 in Yellowknife. The city’s schools will stay closed until at least the end of October 4.
From 11:59pm on Friday, Dr Kandola said, public gatherings in Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilǫ will be further limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. Previously, the limit had been 25 indoors and 50 outdoors.
Any existing exemptions for non-essential businesses, restaurants, or bars will no longer apply, the chief public health officer said, a move likely to see many if not all of the city’s eating and drinking establishments close.
Day cares and day homes will be exempt under currently approved plans, as will essential businesses and facilities.
Small businesses considered non-essential “can continue to operate provided they are able to do so with no more than 10 people indoors at one time,” the territorial government said, suggesting businesses that don’t rely on serving significant numbers of customers at once may yet remain open.
The restrictions will be in place for at least 10 days.
“The NWT has the highest rate of Covid-19 infections, per capita, of any province or territory in Canada,” said Kandola.
“Our health system is stretched and we are seeing severe outcomes.”
Kandola said there had been nine admissions to intensive care since mid-August, adding Alberta’s intensive care capacity – a backup to the NWT – was being stretched.
She said the situation in Yellowknife threatened to affect smaller communities, given the amount of travel between the two. She urged people not to travel “unless absolutely essential.”
“These new gathering restrictions will prevent infections and our healthcare services will have more capacity to test, isolate, and trace,” Kandola said.
Behchokǫ̀, which has been in containment since September 9, will remain under the same restrictions until at least October 7. Whatì, which has been in containment since the end of September 11, will remain so until at least October 9.
‘Working with businesses’
As of Tuesday evening, there were 241 active cases of Covid-19 in the NWT. There were 141 active cases in Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilǫ, 51 in Behchokǫ̀, and 30 in Whatì.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to contain the spread of the virus at this time,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane.
“We will be moving Yellowknife and the surrounding communities to a higher level of protection, starting September 25. We’re working with the business community to determine how we can best support them.”
Local business owners watching a live broadcast of the NWT government’s news conference expressed varying degrees of despair.
Scott Thomson, an owner of Yellowknife’s Stanley Boxing and Fitness gym, queried which businesses had been approached, stating his business received no help from the territorial government when circumstances were similar last year.
“So those of us business owners who are responsible and got vaccinated are being punished for those who aren’t vaccinated?” Thomson asked. “My business is essential for my family to eat and to have a roof over our head.”
“All the businesses that you are closing are essential to their employees,” wrote Jennifer Vornbrock, who co-owns the city’s Monkey Tree Pub.
Stacie Smith, a Yellowknife city councillor and owner of a flower shop that recently relocated, asked: “How are small businesses supposed to survive?”
Kandola acknowledged the difficulty the restrictions present for businesses and residents. She said the NWT was now experiencing the same struggle southern Canada had faced in the Covid-19 pandemic’s opening three waves.
“I anticipate that this will be the only extension required,” she said, if people follow the rules.
Cochrane said there were “measures in place” to detain people found to be disobeying isolation orders as the outbreak in Yellowknife grows.
The GNWT had previously highlighted the problem of some people in Yellowknife failing to properly isolate.
The premier said “more enforcement workers are being pulled in” to Yellowknife and nearby communities.