People returning to the Northwest Territories will now be able to isolate in Norman Wells and Fort Simpson, says the territorial government.
Premier Caroline Cochrane and Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, made the announcement during a news conference on Thursday. The changes come into effect at 5 p.m.
Previously, anyone arriving in the N.W.T. had to self-isolate for 14 days in Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik or Yellowknife, with few exceptions. The self-isolation rules differ for essential workers.
"Allowing the residents of Fort Simpson and … Norman Wells to safely isolate in their home communities will address some of the challenges that come with self-isolation," Cochrane said, adding that this includes having better access to family and isolating in a more familiar setting.
"We've been in this for over a year and people are past COVID fatigue, they're COVID exhausted. So being able to open it up will help improve it with mental health issues we are seeing across the Northwest Territories."
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Kandola says the territory had been reviewing exemption requests over the months since the travel restrictions were in place, and many came from those two communities. They also got correspondence from leaders there.
Kandola says the territory was, in part, waiting for wastewater surveillance to be added to Norman Wells and for the second dose clinics to roll out, which are set to be complete by end of day Thursday, before changing isolation rules.
She added both communities have adequate medical resources to support potential COVID-19 patients, including the stabilization of any severe cases, pending transport to another centre.
Cochrane says there are local enforcement officers in each community to ensure people comply with self-isolation rules.
Restrictions could be further eased later in Spring
There were three active COVID-19 cases and 66 recovered as of Thursday. These numbers include cases in residents and non-residents.
Kandola says the territory is still in phase 2 of its Emerging Wisely plan, but that it could move to phase 3 in late spring.
She says that depends on vaccination uptake and if it's safe to do so. So far, 44 per cent of the territory's adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. The territory's goal is to get at least 75 per cent of the adult population vaccinated.
"We won't get to phase 3 all at once," she said, "and maybe it's not happening as quickly as some would like, but we are getting there."