The NWT is considering whether proof of vaccination can fully reopen the territory to tourism without waiting for Covid-19 case numbers to fall across Canada.
At the moment, the Northwest Territories still isn’t open to most leisure travel. The existing plan states that can only happen once the nationwide seven-day average of daily new Covid-19 case numbers drops below 1,000.
Canada has averaged around 3,000 cases per day over the past week, a figure that may grow rather than decline as the Omicron variant spreads.
Meanwhile, the NWT’s tourism industry is approaching almost two full years without access to meaningful numbers of tourists other than the territory’s own residents.
A provision exists that allows tour operators in remote locations to let guests isolate on the premises, away from communities. However, in the legislature last week, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby suggested tour operators faced a range of bureaucratic hurdles even to trigger that exemption.
“After almost two years of literally no business,” Nokleby said, “operators are finding themselves in the difficult position of having to decide if they close their businesses or go further into debt, hoping that one day they will see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Several tour operators have described to Cabin Radio the process of using government grants worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to stay afloat for the past two years. Some said they faced battles to access ongoing funding as debts mounted.
“Operators are selling their inventory of gear, and many of our shops and retail outlets are leaving or switching to online storefronts to survive the effects of the pandemic restrictions,” Nokleby, a former tourism minister, said.
“With the vaccination of children aged five to 11 in the NWT, I understand that the order restricting leisure travel by non-residents is being looked at and hopefully we can expect changes soon. Will these changes come quickly enough to save our vulnerable tourism sector?”
Present tourism minister Caroline Wawzonek, responding to Nokleby, confirmed the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer is reviewing how vaccination could potentially speed up the loosening of tourism restrictions.
“We’ve always put our faith in the hands of medical science and not necessarily in politicians to be making those determinations,” said Wawzonek.
“But I know that the chief public health officer is now looking at whether a proof of vaccination system can bring us back to the hope that we all had of leisure travel opening much sooner than having to wait for the case counts.”
No timeline for the completion of that review was provided.