The NWT government will no longer ask most staff and contractors for proof of vaccination, saying the time was right to “reconsider some workplace processes and rules.”
From Tuesday, March 1, only certain workers – like those in direct contact with people considered vulnerable to severe complications related to Covid-19 – will be asked to provide proof of vaccination or, alternatively, submit to testing and wear “enhanced personal protective equipment.”
Workers in federally regulated industries (like aviation) will also be asked to keep following the existing requirements.
“The public health risk analysis used by the chief public health officer to justify restrictions is no longer focused on decreased transmission of Covid-19,” the territorial government said in a statement.
“The focus is instead targeted at protecting those who are at higher risk of severe outcomes.”
The NWT government’s vaccine rules never amounted to a blanket mandate, as most workers were offered the ability to agree to regular testing and mask-wearing instead of submitting proof of vaccination.
In practice, that led to occasional unintended consequences. One Yellowknife-based employer, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, described terminating an employee’s contract over their refusal to provide proof of vaccination, only for that employee to immediately pick up work at the GNWT – where testing and protective equipment would suffice.
In some quarters, the GNWT’s decision to do away with most of its vaccination rules three months after introducing them may be perceived as a sign that the policy was not working.
However, others can argue the policy had the intended consequence of driving up vaccination rates across the territory at a time when the Delta variant of the virus responsible for Covid-19 remained a serious threat and the Omicron wave was in its infancy. The territory had maintained the policy would be reviewed regularly and amended as ministers saw fit.
As of January 21 – the last time the GNWT updated its figures – 89 percent of the territorial government’s 6,535 active employees (those not on leave nor suspended) were reported to have submitted proof of vaccination.
The change in policy coincides with the NWT’s decision to relax travel rules from Tuesday for the first time in two years. The NWT’s legislature is reopening on Tuesday, allowing the public to view proceedings from the gallery, sign up for tours, or eat in the building’s café.
“Based on the advice of the chief public health officer, we are confident that we can start to reconsider some workplace processes and rules,” said Caroline Wawzonek, the finance minister, who holds responsibility for human resources at the territorial government.
“However, I encourage everyone to continue to remain cautious, conduct our own risk assessments, and continue to engage in healthy practices.
“A vaccinated public service is still the best way to help protect all of our residents and communities, allowing us to provide the service and support NWT residents rely on us for.”
Teachers, corrections officers, and healthcare workers are among those who will remain subject to the territory’s vaccination policy.
Mask-wearing will remain mandatory for GNWT employees in common areas of offices and work sites until the NWT’s public health emergency expires on April 1.
Employees returning from travel outside the territory no longer need to work remotely for the three days after their return, and occupancy limits in GNWT offices will be lifted.