Yukon Premier Sandy Silver implored all Yukoners on Wednesday to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying there has been "widespread and untraceable" community transmission in Whitehorse.
"Please, I'm begging you: Get vaccinated," Silver said. He noted a "high risk of COVID-19 exposure throughout the city and increased risk in our rural communities."
Silver made the comments alongside the Yukon's acting Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Catherine Elliott, while they gave an update on the territory's COVID-19 situation.
Of 156 active cases in Yukon Wednesday, 108 were in Whitehorse, Elliott said.
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Earlier this week, the Yukon government declared a state of emergency after the territory reported 80 new COVID-19 infections over a three-day period, and announced new health regulations, including a proof-of-vaccination requirement.
While the new rules take effect Saturday, the territory said in a statement that Yukoners are "strongly encouraged" to adopt the measures immediately.
One of the measures is mandatory proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in designated settings for those aged 12 and up.
Proof of vaccination will be needed at bars, restaurants, gyms, recreation facilities, art galleries, theatres, and hair and nail salons, but not to access essential services like health care, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, public transportation and shelters, the territory said in a news release.
The release said a free Yukon-specific QR code reader app is being developed so local businesses and organizations can verify vaccination status.
People can show paper or digital copies of their proof of vaccination credentials, and they'll need to show a piece of government-issued ID.
WATCH | Missed the news conference? Watch it here:
With community transmission in Whitehorse, the territory is no longer issuing exposure notices since it considers all community activities to be a potential source of transmission. Flight exposures will continue until Nov. 15, at which point they will discontinue, as the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is also ending its COVID-19 flight exposure reporting, Elliott said.
She recommended avoiding travel between communities, and while schools can remain open, students should wear masks at their desks.
Vaccination rates on the rise
When asked how the territory went from few measures to a state of emergency, Elliott cited the circulation of a highly transmissible variant and people having more gatherings indoors due to cooler weather.
"We have a more transmissible virus that's causing severe illness amongst younger people, young adults. We haven't seen that in the past," she said. "It's winter. People are moving indoors and people are having large number of contacts."
Asked why school sports were suspended but club sports and recreational sports were allowed to continue, Elliott said it's a "short lived, temporary measure that we are using to reduce group sizes and contact sizes and mixing.
"I'm hoping that we'll be able to get these things back and going as soon as possible."
Vaccination rates have been on the rise too with over 90 per cent of those 12 years and older with first doses and 86 per cent with second doses, she said.
"Each person who gets their shot is a person who is more protected, less likely to get infected to spread the virus and to get severely ill," Elliott said.
Frontline workers being mistreated
Silver said the territory has heard that community nurses and other frontline staff are being insulted, verbally abused and even physically abused by people who are angry about the new requirements.
"There are growing concerns about their safety. This is absolutely unacceptable and it needs to stop," Silver said.
"Our territory has a dedicated team of healthcare professionals that have been working flat out for 20 months to help all of us — to help our families, our neighbours, our friends — to stay healthy and safe," he said.
"Not very Yukon of us."