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Coronavirus
Travel

Many unvaccinated NWT air travellers get an exception – for now

Last modified: November 4, 2021 at 9:18am


Exceptions to mandatory vaccination or testing for air travel are being made for more than 200 places considered “remote communities” by the federal government, including virtually all of the NWT.

From November 30, most Canadians will have to demonstrate they are fully vaccinated to board an aircraft. Until then, either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test are permissible.

However, the federal government says it understands the need for “specific accommodations for travellers from remote communities, to ensure they will be able to obtain essential services in support of their medical, health, or social well-being, and return safely to their homes.”

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That means until at least November 30, travellers departing from any NWT community except Yellowknife will not need to be fully vaccinated and – in some circumstances – won’t need a Covid-19 test either.

“Travellers flying out of remote communities will be exempt from the mandatory testing requirement before they depart until such time as the local testing capacity is in place,” the federal government said on its website, adding work was under way to improve smaller communities’ testing abilities.

If you’re leaving an NWT community without such testing capacity by air in November – and heading outside the territory – you will instead be given a “free, rapid, high-quality” test at Yellowknife Airport, which is now considered a “gateway airport” to the rest of Canada. (Airlines will also have tests available for people on their onward or return journeys. If you’ve taken a test within three days of travel and have a negative result you can show, that will work too.)

This system, which Ottawa stressed was an “interim” measure, will allow people from small communities without testing “to be tested as soon as possible in their journey, and to ensure their travel is safe for themselves and others,” the federal government said.

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As soon as a community has testing capacity, you’ll have to be tested or prove you’re fully vaccinated before flying.

While the federal government listed 201 remote communities where an exemption is available, it didn’t state which of the 201 – if any – already have sufficient testing capacity in place to enforce testing at the point of departure.

What happens on November 30, when testing ceases to be an option to board most aircraft, is not clear.

“In advance of November 30, the Government of Canada will work with provinces, territories, and national Indigenous organizations to refine the approach for the next phase of implementation,” the federal government said.

The NWT government said Covid-19 testing at Yellowknife Airport was “expected to be operational on November 5, pending test kit arrival.”

From November 30, the GNWT said, “only travellers with proof of vaccination may travel through Yellowknife Airport.” However, three days after this article was first published, a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure said the territorial government actually did not know what would happen from November 30 onward.

“It is not yet clear what the requirements will be for proof of vaccination or testing for air travellers in the Northwest Territories on November 30, 2021 and beyond,” spokesperson Sonia Idir said by email.

“The Government of Canada has stated that it will work with provinces, territories, and national Indigenous organizations to refine the approach for the next phase of implementation.”

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