As COVID-19 cases climb across the country, Yukon MLAs question border controls

·3 min read

Opposition MLAs in Yukon are asking whether it's time to tighten the territory's border controls, as COVID-19 numbers climb in neighbouring jurisdictions.

"Many Yukoners are wondering if the measures that were put in place during the summer when COVID-19 numbers were much lower are still appropriate," said NDP Leader Kate White in the legislature on Monday.

"We're seeing the number of active cases increase very rapidly across the country, including in British Columbia."

Right now, anyone arriving in Yukon from B.C., N.W.T. or Nunavut is not required to self-isolate. People arriving from elsewhere, however, must isolate for 14 days.

After months with no new cases, the N.W.T. has seen several confirmed in recent weeks. Nunavut, meanwhile, has gone from no cases since March to a few in early November then 60 on Tuesday. The N.W.T. government this week suspended its travel "bubble" with Nunavut.

B.C. is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. On Monday, provincial health officials announced almost 2,000 new cases of the virus province-wide.

Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada
Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada

White asked the Yukon government what might trigger a reconsideration of the travel bubble with B.C.

"We know that self-isolation was imposed in other parts of the country when case counts were much lower than they are now. So how will government decide when the risk is too big?" White asked.

Yukon Party MLA Geraldine Van Bibber also questioned the border controls now in place in Yukon. Since Oct. 1, Yukon's non-international land borders have been staffed from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, when they had previously been staffed 24 hours per day.

Travellers crossing into Yukon are required to stop and sign a declaration, and provide their self-isolation plan if arriving from somewhere other than B.C., the N.W.T. or Nunavut.

Van Bibber asked whether reduced staffing at the borders has made them less secure.

"How many travelers have entered the Yukon during these unstaffed hours?" Van Bibber asked.

"Is the government confident that all travelers arriving outside of those hours have complied with the honour system approach? How has the government ensured compliance with this new model?"

White echoed Van Bibber's questions, and asked when the government might reconsider its border enforcement plan.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

Community Services Minister John Streicker replied by saying the government would continue to make sure the borders "are safe."

He also said there's less traffic into Yukon these days.

"Right now, the number of visitors that are coming into the territory from our our land borders is dropping. I think it dropped 15 per cent, last week alone."

Border enforcement can 'absolutely' change in future, minister says

Streicker also said the government is doing other things to ensure compliance at the border, such as installing video cameras and having enforcement officers do random checkstops in the evening.

"Can this change in the future? Absolutely," he said.

Premier Sandy Silver also said on Tuesday that the territory could consider new restrictions on travel from certain regions, if not a whole province.

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said Tuesday that he's watching what's happening in other jurisdictions such as B.C. and Nunavut.

But he said stricter border controls in Yukon are not necessarily a priority right now.

"Even as cases go up, the importation risk has not changed as much as we might think because the number of travellers has gone down," Hanley said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"Even in places with some of the strictest border requirements, we are seeing cases come up, and spread."

Hanley said it's more important to focus on controlling potential spread of the virus, within the territory.

"The critical thing is what we do to prevent transmission, how we prevent cases from becoming outbreaks, how we prevent outbreaks from becoming large outbreaks or multiple outbreaks or community transmission," he said.

"So it all comes back to all of us."