The N.W.T. government will release its new "Emerging Wisely" reopening plan, which guides the phased lifting of certain COVID-19 restrictions in the territory, on Wednesday, health officials told MLAs.
During a committee briefing, Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola provided no details of the plan but MLAs had an opportunity to question government officials about the plan and pandemic response.
"The goal has always been to remove restrictions slowly and safely," said Kandola.
The reviewed plan will gradually lessen requirements, beginning first with outdoor activities and lower risk activities, which means people could attend events like Folk on the Rocks, farmers markets and barbecues.
Kandola said vaccines are a key factor in the reopening plan.
"If more N.W.T. residents are fully vaccinated, the territory will be better positioned to lift restrictions on higher risk activities," she said.
Original phased approach abandoned
The first Emerging Wisely plan was released in May 2020. Within a month, the territory jumped into phase two of its plan — relaxing restrictions on outdoor gatherings and allowing businesses to reopen.
It hasn't been updated since June 2020.
In the committee briefing, MLAs pointed out that this phased approach was never truly applied. Kandola says that the new plan will have a different approach, with indicators and timelines that more closely resemble provincial COVID-19 plans.
So far, 61 per cent of adults in the N.W.T. are fully immunized and 68 per cent are partially vaccinated, according to the N.W.T.'s COVID-19 dashboard.
Communities in the Sahtu, Tłı̨chǫ and Beaufort Delta regions have fallen behind in vaccination compared to the rest of the territory, the dashboard shows.
Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler said lower uptake in those regions could delay reopening plans and the loosening of travel restrictions.
"Is that going to impede the rest of the territory moving forward in this plan?" said Semmler.
Kandola says the territory is spending $100,000 on a public education strategy to address vaccine hesitancy in the communities.
"When we get to the point where we have to lift the travel restrictions, it would be important to have as high coverage as possible because lifting the travel restrictions will allow that increased risk to very vulnerable communities," said Kandola.
Kandola said the N.W.T. worked hard to keep people safe and that residents can't let their guard down.
"We need to be measured and careful because we do not want to learn the lessons in a hard way," she said.
"We will relax according to our vaccine coverage, at the same time maintaining safety for the smaller communities that are not at the same levels of vaccine coverage as we are, and are vulnerable."