Pandemic restrictions in the Yellowknife area and Behchokǫ̀ are being extended to 5pm on Friday, October 22. After that, some NWT businesses will be allowed to require proof of vaccination for entry.
The territory’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, on Thursday told reporters the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak meant gathering restrictions in Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilǫ must continue for another week, as will Behchokǫ̀’s containment order. Schools in those regions will remain closed during that time.
Once those restrictions lift on October 22, Dr Kandola said, a new territory-wide order will restrict indoor gatherings to 25 people and outdoor gatherings to 50 people. She characterized this as a return to restrictions in place prior to the introduction of the NWT’s revised Emerging Wisely recovery plan, released in June.
Schools in Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndilǫ, and Behchokǫ̀ are expected to be able to resume in-person learning at that time.
Those gathering limits can increase to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors if non-essential businesses and events implement a proof of vaccination requirement, which is being newly introduced to the territory.
Businesses and organizations will be able to require that people show vaccine credentials before they can enter. (People who aren’t eligible for vaccination, which currently includes children under the age of 12, would still be able to attend.)
“While this means keeping tighter restrictions for those who are not fully vaccinated, it also means we can begin to emerge from this outbreak,” Premier Caroline Cochrane told reporters.
“This is just another tool that will help us ensure that we’re able to manage the outbreak while allowing residents who are fully vaccinated to get back to doing the things they love.”
Cochrane said the October 22 date could be pushed back if Covid-19 cases don’t continue to drop as expected.
Non-essential businesses wanting to exceed the 25-person indoor limit and implement proof of vaccination requirements will need to apply to do so. More information will follow next week, Kandola said.
‘Choice would allow better compliance’
Kandola presented the proof of vaccination shift as a choice: once the new gathering limits are in effect, businesses can either have a smaller capacity without proof of vaccination or a larger capacity with the requirement that customers be vaccinated, she said.
Use of a negative Covid-19 test instead of a vaccination credential is not currently being considered, the territorial government said on its website.
Elsewhere in Canada, some provinces have mandated proof of vaccination for non-essential businesses like restaurants, bars, gyms, theatres and casinos, rather than leaving it up to businesses to choose.
“We feel that a choice would allow better compliance and allow more freedom for people who may want to choose the smaller gatherings,” Kandola explained of the NWT’s approach.
Kandola said being fully vaccinated decreases the likelihood of severe illness and death from Covid-19, but people can still pass on the disease to others who are unvaccinated or at higher risk of severe outcomes.
“Vaccines continue to protect against severe outcomes of Covid-19 infection. They’re not perfect, but they significantly reduce the risk,” she said.
Currently, 79 percent of the territory’s population aged 12 and older is fully vaccinated and 83 percent partially vaccinated against Covid-19. Across Canada, 86.7 percent of the population aged 12 and older has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Since January 1, 57.2 percent of Covid-19 infections in the NWT were in unvaccinated individuals, while 9.39 percent of those infected were partially vaccinated and 32.6 percent fully immunized.
Kandola said an accurate picture of who’s being infected with Covid-19 in the territory could only come from studying the infection rate of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. However, that data is not routinely published by the territorial government.
Kandola said people who are not fully vaccinated represent a minority in the NWT, but account for 64 percent of all hospitalizations related to Covid-19.
QR code troubles
As of Wednesday evening, there were 356 active cases of Covid-19 in the NWT. The majority are in the Yellowknife area and Behchokǫ̀. Nine people in the territory have died of the disease, while the territory currently has the highest number of active cases per capita in Canada.
“That’s not a fact I’m proud of,” health minister Julie Green said. “In fact, it’s frightening, and it’s certainly not where I hoped we would be this autumn.”
The territory launched its new proof of vaccination document on Tuesday, which it says meets federal standards.
So far, the QR code does not work with all jurisdictions’ apps, a problem the territorial government says is being addressed between provincial and territorial authorities and should be solved in time.