The NWT government on Friday changed the territory’s Covid-19 isolation and testing requirements in some situations.
The new rules shorten isolation in some scenarios. The instructions, in aiming to capture a range of different circumstances, are some of the most complex and nuanced yet issued by the territory.
Fully vaccinated travellers entering the NWT, who were already allowed to skip isolation, are now told to take a rapid test at home when they arrive. A test on day four is also required in some circumstances, such as if working with a vulnerable population, travelling to a small NWT community, or arriving in the NWT after international travel within the past eight days.
Travellers who are not fully vaccinated must now isolate for seven days, down from a previous requirement of 10 days. That can be reduced to five full days with a negative test at a clinic or health centre on day six.
Anyone isolating after testing positive must still do so for 10 days from the onset of symptoms or receipt of a positive test, whichever is last to occur.
However, that isolation can come down to seven days if the person testing positive is fully vaccinated, is not considered seriously immunocompromised, recovers to the point of having no symptoms, and agrees to use a mask when away from their home until day 10.
Contacts in the same home must isolate for 10 days from their household member’s symptoms starting or positive test, whichever is later, unless otherwise directed. They do not have access to the same means of reducing their isolation time.
Explaining the reason for that difference, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola wrote: “Given the infectiousness of the Omicron variant, it is likely that infections have already occurred by the time an infection is discovered within the household. The 10-day period, with no reductions, increases the likelihood that everyone in the home is no longer infectious after 10 days.”
Close contacts who don’t live in the same home must isolate for seven days, which can come down to five days if that person has had a booster shot, has not developed symptoms, and agrees to wear a mask when outside their home for five days after isolating.
The full list of changes was published at 5pm on Friday, at which point the new isolation rules kicked in. Visit the GNWT’s website for information on medical isolation (if you test positive or are a close contact) and travel-related isolation for residents and others. A summary was provided to reporters in advance.
Friday’s changes do not alter the current rules regarding leisure travel, which remains prohibited for non-NWT residents except in specific situations such as attending a remote lodge with approved measures in place.
The switch to shorter isolation periods comes despite the NWT now reporting almost 700 active Covid-19 cases.
Pressing ahead with such a move suggests officials believe the lack of hospitalizations – so far, nobody has been sent to hospital in the NWT with the Omicron variant – indicates the territory is weathering the storm.
In a news release, Dr Kandola’s office said the available information on Omicron’s incubation period suggested that “individuals infected with the Omicron variant are symptomatic or test positive earlier in the life cycle of the disease, with a median of three days.
“It is known that fully vaccinated individuals with Covid-19 infection who are not immunocompromised also clear their infection earlier than those who are not fully vaccinated.
“Based on this information, the chief public health officer is shortening the isolation requirements.”
Businesses who want exemptions from some of the new isolation requirements “to ensure business continuity and limit interruptions in the delivery of essential services” were encouraged to apply by email “as soon as possible.”