Returning to the N.W.T. after travel? These new rules apply

·5 min read

The Northwest Territories now says all members of a home must self-isolate for 14 days when a person in the home returns from travel.

The move is in light of the surge of COVID-19 cases across the country, according to Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer. Kandola spoke on the new rules during a briefing with reporters for the territory's weekly COVID-19 update.

"The second wave has come ashore in the North," Kandola said.

"The events of the last 10 days have shown just how quickly our fortunes can change and they have reminded us that we cannot keep this virus out."

Recently, 380 people travelled from Nunavut, a "small number" of which identified as contacts to confirmed cases in Nunavut, and have entered the N.W.T. They are now in isolation and on Tuesday evening, the government said those who flew in from Nunavut's Kivalliq region in the last 14 days are now required to self-isolate in their current location for two weeks, starting the day they arrived in the N.W.T.

"We're monitoring closely Nunavut's response and our hearts goes out for them," Kandola said adding some of N.W.T.'s smaller communities are similar to Nunavut's in terms of crowded housing and the "social nature" of small communities.

The new rules for households however, are not retroactive, and it applies to all travellers and their households arriving after the advisory was announced on Wednesday.

People who are isolating in households with returned travellers are not to go to school, work, visit with others or run errands for the entire 14 days. If a person who has returned home from travelling is able to self-isolate in a "self-contained suite" that is separate from the rest of the home's living space, then household members are not obliged to self-isolate. A self-contained suit includes a separate entrance, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

The new rules replace all previous guidelines for travellers returning home, which previously said people could isolate at home as long as they keep at least two metres apart from other household members.

Kandola says travellers will need to plan accordingly with their household and indicate in their self-isolation plan how they plan to be away from the rest of their household (like being in a self-contained suite) or that household members will be self-isolating with them.

Kandola says the decision was made based on a few factors including the growing number of cases Canada-wide and that in N.W.T.'s recent cases, the transmission to household contacts was "100 per cent."

Resident essential worker changes

Essential workers who have not travelled but who live with people who have travelled and are self-isolating will have to follow new guidelines too.

That includes completing a worker's self-isolation plan, having their employer apply for permission to work during the 14 day self-isolation period, and getting approval by the chief public health officer. Employees are told to work with their employers to complete the process through ProtectNWT, the release says.

The rules for exempted non-resident workers remain the same. Self-isolation and application requirements for supply-chain workers, essential workers, airline crews and employees, remote camp workers, and non-remote camp workers have not changed at this time.

Keep crowds small

Kandola says with the holidays approaching, people may feel more of a pull to get together, but reminded residents that with bigger crowds come a larger transmission network.

She says it's no reason to be "fearful" but "mindful" instead.

She says the territory has about 200 requests to enter the territory and is expecting more.

While masks still aren't mandatory Kandola says they're strongly recommended. People who feel even a little bit sick, she said, should call health centres. She added testing has never been "easier or faster," with the territory having a capacity to do about 500 tests per week.

Households who have to isolate are allowed some activities in the two weeks of isolation, she said, including short walks (not with people from outside the home), and added that what people are allowed to do while in isolation will be explained further soon.

"If our only risk factor is travel related… putting the restrictions on that small number allows the greater population to have more freedom," Kandola said.

Travel 'bubble' suspension was a 'difficult' choice, Kandola says

Earlier this week, the N.W.T. government said it was suspending the travel bubble between N.W.T. and Nunavut until further notice, a choice Kandola says was "very difficult" to make.

Since Tuesday at noon, people who travel from Nunavut to the Northwest Territories must follow the same self-isolation and travel protocols as anyone else travelling to the territory, according to a news release on Monday from the office of the N.W.T.'s chief public health officer.

On Tuesday evening, effective immediately, the N.W.T. government added to that measure — anyone who has travelled from Nunavut's Kivalliq region in the last 14 days is required to self-isolate in their current location for two weeks, starting the day they arrive in the N.W.T.

It follows a COVID-19 outbreak in Nunavut. On Wednesday, it hit a new high of 70 cases.

There have been 15 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the N.W.T., 10 of which have recovered, according to the government's website which was last updated Tuesday morning.