Anyone working for the territorial government must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of November, the GNWT said, upgrading its previous stance.
In late September, the territory said it would require front-line workers interacting with vulnerable members of the public to be fully vaccinated by November 30. Now, three weeks later, the rule is being changed to apply to all employees.
“The GNWT engaged with the Union of Northern Workers, the NWT Teachers’ Association, Indigenous governments, and others in the drafting of this policy and in making amendments to it,” the territorial government said in a Monday news release.
“The GNWT is committed to protecting the health and well-being of GNWT employees, NWT residents, and communities, and strongly encourages all NWT residents to get vaccinated against Covid-19.”
The territory said it would consider exceptions to the rule “on a case-by-case basis for medical reasons or based on protected grounds under the Human Rights Act.”
The NWT Human Rights Commission told the CBC in September a “personal belief” about Covid-19 vaccination is not grounds for a complaint under the act.
Explaining her government’s shift in stance, NWT finance minister Caroline Wawzonek said on Monday the territory had been “heavily impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak” since its first guidance was issued.
On September 27, the date of its initial announcement regarding front-line workers, the NWT had recorded 1,029 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic started and had 246 active cases. As of Friday last week, the territory had recorded a total of 1,706 cases, 354 of which remained active.
“We have an obligation as a government to create safe workplaces for our employees and to protect the health of the people that we serve,” Wawzonek said in a statement. Her department controls human resources at the GNWT.
“This policy will help support our efforts to get the current outbreak of Covid-19 in the NWT under control, allowing us to move forward with the steps outlined in Emerging Wisely,” the minister added.
Emerging Wisely is the title of the NWT’s pandemic recovery plan, encompassing both an initial version released in 2020 and an update in June 2021.
However, restrictions enacted this fall and amendments coming soon – such as the introduction of proof-of-vaccination to enter some businesses – are not contemplated in any Emerging Wisely document. Nor were vaccine mandates such as the one announced on Monday.
“In June 2021, when we started, our immunization levels had increased. We were very hopeful about relaxing measures. This was before the Delta variant had taken hold,” Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, said on Friday when asked if Emerging Wisely’s provisions had essentially now been scrapped.
“Between Emerging Wisely and now, we’ve had a 100-percent Delta-driven pandemic and this virus requires very high levels of immunization. Even in places that have been heavily vaccinated, such as Yellowknife, we’ve still had Delta-driven outbreaks happening.
“We didn’t anticipate that the Delta variant would take over as the primary variant, and also it’s a highly infectious variant … we started to see increased community transmission in under-vaccinated regions and under-vaccinated pockets in Yellowknife, and now we’re starting to see the beginnings in Inuvik.”