Majority of Indigenous, community leaders want to see GNWT spend less on isolation hubs: report

·4 min read

The majority of those who took part in recent engagement sessions with the Northwest Territories government on its self-isolation hubs are in favour of seeing the government spend less for the centres.

That's according to a report, initiated by the territory's COVID-19 secretariat, that gives a summary of input received about the hubs — and payment for stays there — from Indigenous governments, community governments and business interests between Oct. 28 and Nov. 3, says a government news release.

Currently, travellers entering or returning to the N.W.T. must isolate at hubs in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, or Inuvik.

According to the report, isolation centres represent "more than half of the GNWT's [Government of the Northwest Territories] costs for implementing the public health orders" of the chief public health office.

When the government asked respondents whether the territory should continue to pay for all isolation centre stays, including discretionary travel, the bulk of feedback was in support of reducing the costs.

However the report also noted there was "valuable discussion about how to do so in a way that's fair and equitable to all residents."

"The results show there are differing points of view about self-isolating at home in smaller communities," it says in the news release.

"Most of feedback was in support of reducing isolation centre costs to taxpayers."

According to the report, there were representatives from Indigenous governments and community governments who said they did not support the government continuing to pay for any stays at the isolation centres.

There were also some business stakeholders who said they don't want personal or discretionary travel to be covered by the territory, and people who travel voluntarily should have more options to isolate at home to help reduce those costs.

Government of the Northwest Territories
Government of the Northwest Territories

Some of the comments the government received from those who want the territory to stop paying for the hubs, according to the report, say the territory "should not be paying for people's holidays," and that it should "only pay if it is needed after absolutely necessary travel (e.g. medical)."

More comments included in the report say "all other travel needs to be discouraged," and "if the GNWT continues this way it should also consider providing financial support to help offset these mandatory costs for businesses."

Among the comments from those who say the territory should stop paying, with considerations, were around the discussion of defining discretionary travel. One comment says there "needs to be clear distinction between what is considered not necessary and what is considered compassionate (e.g.: funerals, graduation ceremonies etc.)."

Meanwhile, those in favour of the territory continuing to pay for the hubs raised the argument about whether some individuals have the capacity to self-isolate at home in their communities — at no cost — or whether they would be required to pay isolation centre costs out of pocket.

"Causes unfairness for communities that cannot have people self-isolate. They will have to pay for staying at isolation centres while others can self-isolate at home," one comment reads. Another says it "causes unfairness for certain people who cannot self-isolate at home (personal circumstances). They will have to pay for staying at isolation centres while others will not."

Another comment suggested the government negotiate for lower costs.

The government says the report is one of "many tools" that informs the office of the chief public health officer, including to either change or adapt public health orders regarding where mandated self-isolation can take place. As well, it says it will help the government "make better informed decisions" about changes to policy in terms of controlling costs at isolation centres.

It noted that the report only reflects the concerns and views of those who took part in it.

The discussions were based on a paper provided to stakeholders in advance of the engagement surveys.

"Our government is committed to carrying out meaningful dialogue with stakeholders, including Indigenous leaders, community governments, and the business community," said Premier Caroline Cochrane in a statement.

"It's important we hear, value and learn from different perspectives as we make decisions. A coordinated and collaborative approach to making public health order decisions will allow the GNWT to determine how best to assist each unique community when it comes to carrying them out."