By sometime in mid to late fall, all restrictions could be lifted in the Northwest Territories, according to the government's long-awaited "Emerging Wisely" reopening plan.
"It is time to move forward," said Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, at a news conference Wednesday. She pointed to the declining COVID-19 cases and increasing vaccine uptake in the N.W.T. and Canada-wide.
But, the easing of restrictions will hinge on those vaccination rates, as well as continued low daily COVID-19 cases nationally.
"This plan is guided by data, not dates," Kandola said, adding the new plan leans on risk assessment rather than the previous phased approach.
Currently, 69 per cent of eligible N.W.T. residents have gotten at least one dose and 62 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Outdoor gatherings increase
As of Wednesday, outdoor gatherings will bump up to 200 people maximum, as long as physical distancing is possible. If it's not possible to distance, masks will be recommended, but not required, Kandola said.
"This means enjoying things like outdoor sports, music festivals, garage sales, food and drink on patios and parades," reads the territorial government's updated plan.
To hit this milestone, the plan says 66 to 75 per cent of those 18-and-up will need to be partially vaccinated — a target which has been reached.
Approval will be needed for gatherings over 200 people, the plan says.
Indoor gatherings may increase by July
By early July, when the territory expects 66 to 75 per cent of its 18-and-up population to be fully vaccinated or 75 per cent to be partially vaccinated, indoor gatherings will also go up to 200 people maximum.
Restaurants, stores, offices and other businesses will resume regular capacity.
"You can go to people's houses, have people over, have workplace get-togethers, and parties," the plan reads.
This is targeted to happen after the end of the school year, Kandola said. That's to ensure a level of safety remains for the "most vulnerable population": children under 12 who cannot yet get the vaccine.
Approval will still be needed for "high-risk" events of more than 200 people, it adds.
Mask won't be mandatory in Yellowknife or the nearby communities once the school year ends, Kandola said. Mask wearing will be based on personal risk assessments.
Possible self-isolation changes in 'early summer'
By "early summer," or when Canada overall has a weekly average of fewer than 1,000 daily new cases and 66 to 75 per cent of those 18-and-up are partially vaccinated, the territory says self-isolation requirements will decrease.
N.W.T. residents and non-resident essential workers and travellers with an exemption who are:
Fully vaccinated — won't need to self-isolate.
Partially vaccinated — must isolate for eight days (testing required).
Unvaccinated — will need to self isolate for 10 days (testing required) and have all household members self-isolate.
Travellers going directly to small communities must get a test on day one and day 14, as will some essential workers.
Residents will be allowed to resume leisure travel.
Health Minister Julie Green says while there's no national or international standard for vaccination verification, the territory suggests people apply for vaccination records as jurisdictions work towards a standardized approach.
Travel in late summer or early fall
By late summer to early fall, leisure travel into the N.W.T. could be permitted under the plan.
That will happen when 75 per cent of the territory's 18-and-up population is fully immunized and Canada-wide there is a weekly average of fewer than 1,000 daily new cases, with 66 to 75 per cent of Canadians 18-and-up fully immunized.
It could mean no exemptions are needed to enter the territory and all travellers entering the N.W.T. will have the same self-isolation requirements as residents.
International travellers will still have to follow federal quarantine regulations.
Self-isolation plans will be required for contact tracing and rapid response preparation, the plan says.
No restrictions by fall, plan projects
All restrictions could be lifted by mid to late fall.
That's if 75 per cent of those 12-and-up in the N.W.T. are fully vaccinated, along with 66 to 75 per cent of the territory's total population, and when there is a weekly average of fewer than 1,000 daily new cases Canada-wide with 66 to 75 per cent of Canada's 18-and-up population fully vaccinated.
There are a few other factors that could set back these plans, the territory says.
That includes if the current vaccines end up being less effective or ineffective against a variant of concern. In that case, more restrictions may be required while a booster vaccine is developed, the plan says.
There are currently four variants of concern globally, Kandola said —"variants that could change the rules of the game."