A checkpoint at the NWT’s border with Alberta south of Fort Smith will not be reinstated following the opening of the nearby winter road and advent of the Omicron variant.
With Fort Smith now connected to Fort Chipewyan and other communities by winter road, residents had queried whether the staffed checkpoint south of the town would return.
By email last week, the territorial government told Cabin Radio “there is no intention at this time to close the border at Fort Smith or to reinstate the checkstop.”
A border checkpoint was introduced at the start of the pandemic to allow the small communities of Fort Fitzgerald and Smith’s Landing, south of the border, access to Fort Smith for essential goods while ensuring residents from the rest of Alberta could not enter without obeying pandemic-era travel rules.
The checkpoint was not always hugely popular – at one point, some community leaders described the system of passes in place as “strange” and “sinister” – and appeared to exist more as a demonstration of intent than a watertight public health measure. It was rarely, if ever staffed around the clock.
In July 2021, the territory said the checkpoint would be dismantled on August 1. It has not since returned.
The opening of the winter road to Fort Chipewyan just before Christmas, however, renewed concern about the spread of Covid-19 along that route.
Kelley Ryder, the NWT government’s Covid-19 Secretariat communications manager, said by email that while anyone entering the territory must file an approved self-isolation plan, the checkpoint to screen those plans on entry would not return.
“Vaccination rates are high in Fort Smith and in communities connected to Fort Smith by winter road. We continue to encourage all residents to become vaccinated, however vaccination credentials are not checked at any of the NWT land borders,” Ryder wrote.
“Vaccination status may be verified through the self-isolation plan application process, including those who are non-resident travellers, and does impact the self-isolation or self-monitoring requirements.
“The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer and the Covid Secretariat will continue to monitor the situation and will make adjustments as appropriate.”