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Coronavirus

Public health emergency ending April 1, health minister says

Last modified: February 25, 2022 at 6:45pm


The Northwest Territories minister of health and social services says the public health emergency – which allowed the territory to enact restrictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic – will lift on April 1. 

Julie Green made the announcement during a media briefing on Friday afternoon, saying all Covid-19 restrictions will end at that time. Previously, the minister and other health officials had pledged to end the public health emergency this spring, but had not specified a date.

“Over the last two years, every NWT resident has made sacrifices to adapt to Covid-19. We are all tired of the pandemic and of the public health measures that have been necessary to keep us safe,” Green said.

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“We are now at the point where we must turn a corner and end the public health emergency because the risks associated with Covid-19 are no longer the emergency they once were.”

Before the public health emergency ends, the territorial government plans to ease many restrictions currently in place.

Gathering limits, vaccine passports ending March 1

On March 1, as previously reported, restrictions on leisure travel in the NWT will end, while travellers will no longer be required to self-isolate, regardless of vaccination status.

The NWT government will discontinue its contracts with hotels that were used as self-isolation centres. Premier Caroline Cochrane said her government will announce it’s plan to wind down the Covid-19 Secretariat in the coming weeks.

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People entering the territory will still have to complete a self-isolation plan and symptom monitoring. Anyone headed to small communities, people entering the territory after international travel, and those who work with vulnerable populations must still get tested for Covid-19 on day zero or one, and day four.

The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer said self-isolation plans will allow it to continue monitoring Covid-19 risks and direct additional resources to communities if necessary. 

Also starting on March 1, restrictions on all gatherings in the territory will end and the NWT government is terminating its proof-of-vaccination program for businesses. Since October, non-essential businesses, organizations and municipalities have had the option to require proof of vaccination upon entry to increase capacity limits. 

Businesses, organizations, employers and communities may choose to implement their own proof of vaccination requirements after March 1. 

Mandatory masking in indoor public spaces will remain in place until April 1. Kandola said people should still consider taking other precautions like social distancing to protect themselves and others.

Shifting the response

“As we begin to ease pandemic restrictions, it’s important to know that this does not mean the end of Covid-19,” Cochrane said.

“I want to ensure all northerners that the government remains committed to the goal of protecting their health and well being.”

Green explained the territory is moving to a “continuous readiness approach” that will ensure the healthcare system remains ready to respond to Covid-19 outbreaks. Dr Kami Kandola, the territory’s chief public health officer, said that means shifting focus from decreasing transmission to protecting people who are at high-risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19.

Kandola said the decision was made to lift many restrictions as the rates of hospitalizations and death from the Omicron variant of Covid-19 are much lower than previous variants. The risk of Omicron hospitalization is about 40 percent lower than for the Delta variant, she said.

Kandola added that two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have proven less effective at preventing transmission of the Omicron variant compared to previous strains.

“We can no longer distinguish between those who are vaccinated or not when it comes to importation risk after travel or access to different types of activities or establishments,” she said.

“Our goal has always been to balance the risk to human health [with] the complex needs of society as a whole”

Kandola said while there are still hundreds of active cases of Covid-19 in the NWT, the territory’s case load is on a downward trend.

As of Friday evening, there were 539 active cases of Covid-19 across the territory, a slight increase from the 519 reported on Thursday. At its peak, there were more than 1,000 cases in the territory during the latest Omicron wave.

Between Thursday and Friday evening there were 94 new infections, 74 resolved cases, one new hospitalization and one additional intensive care admission.

As for lifting the public health emergency in April, Kandola said waiting several days after March break when there may be an influx of travellers, will allow health officials to assess any importation risks, and give the territory time to enact household isolation requirements if necessary.

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