Nobody in the Northwest Territories currently needs hospital treatment for Covid-19, but the territory nevertheless warned of a “rough month” ahead.
On Tuesday, the NWT government removed an exemption for up to 25 fully vaccinated people to gather in a home, reducing the limit back to five guests – to a maximum of 10 people in a home – regardless of vaccination status.
Some sports and activities were suspended and bars were told to tighten mingling rules as the territory reported around 200 new Covid-19 cases since New Year’s Eve. The NWT government is assuming all cases are the Omicron variant.
Yet with well over 300 active cases in the territory, the reportedly milder nature of the Omicron variant appeared to be reflected in the territory’s hospitalization figures.
Around 2,000 infections between August and December, the vast majority attributed to the Delta variant, resulted in just under 60 hospitalizations in the Northwest Territories. Twelve people died from Covid-19 in that time. Each of those deaths was connected to the Delta variant, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola said on Tuesday.
Dr Kandola said that by contrast, as of Tuesday, “we don’t currently have any hospitalizations” in the NWT despite the rapidly rebounding case count.
Asked how the NWT anticipated eventually emerging from public health restrictions as it again reduced gathering limits, Kandola said: “The endgame that we always look at is the impact on severe health outcomes. We’re looking at increase in hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths.
“We are grateful that Omicron appears to be a milder variant, it seems to be more in the upper airway. But unfortunately, the speed of transmission and the fact that we don’t have as much data on people who are unvaccinated, with no immunity at all… one of our concerns is that it could have a devastating impact on the healthcare system.
“So the next few weeks in January will be critical to monitor how much we can slow the spread of Omicron and how much the hospitals can keep pace.”
Julie Green, the NWT’s health minister, said the territory’s planning for the end of its public health emergency – which has been in place continuously since mid-March 2020 – was “well under way,” but no specific date had been contemplated.
“It’s more complex than just saying it’s over,” Green said.
Kandola added: “At some point, Omicron will burn through the NWT and Canada will start to see a dramatic drop in cases. If we start to see a dramatic drop in impact on severe outcomes, at that point, that’s a good sign.
“Unfortunately, in the dead of winter, in January, when we’re starting to more than double our cases over the last few days, we’re not there yet.
“January will be a rough month, but I’m hoping we’ll get there over the coming months.”