N.W.T. reviewing Emerging Wisely COVID-19 plan in April

·3 min read

The territorial government says its Emerging Wisely COVID-19 action plan will be updated and reviewed next month to see if the N.W.T. can move to the next phase of loosening restrictions.

The plan, which has been in place since May 2020, sets out restrictions such as regulations for facility opening hours and sizes of both indoor and outdoor gatherings. The N.W.T. has been in phase two of four since last June, prompting criticism from some quarters that the plan has stalled.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, said on Wednesday the “horizon for the N.W.T. is looking good” and a move to phase three seems more plausible than before.

“When we are going to relax restrictions, it’s going to be local first,” Kandola said.

“[We’re] looking at how we can move to a phase three approach, and that would be toward the end of April.”

That timeframe allows more people to get the second dose of the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19. Virtually all N.W.T. adults now have access to the vaccine after Yellowknife opened its clinic to the general population earlier on Wednesday.

Kandola said the upcoming March break is a factor as some residents may opt to leave the territory and could introduce a variant to the N.W.T., though she said that risk was considered quite low.

More than half of the N.W.T.’s adult population has already received at least one dose of the vaccine. More than 17,000 adult residents have one shot and more than 11,000 are fully vaccinated.

The primary change in phase three would be the lifting of all size limits on outdoor events and activities "as long as proper health measures are followed." That could have consequences for major events like Yellowknife's annual Folk on the Rocks music festival, which is currently scheduled for July.

Travel restrictions will remain in place in the N.W.T. even as restrictions within the territory loosen, Kandola said, highlighting the fact that vastly fewer southern Canadians had received the vaccine to date.

Kandola said a decrease in Canada's daily virus caseload and the administration of more vaccines nationally were prerequisites before border restrictions significantly change. She gave the figure of 60 to 70 per cent vaccination nationwide as an example.

The spread of COVID-19 variants nationally could also be a factor, Kandola added.

She said the Northwest Territories won’t move to phase four of its plan – which is a full relaxation of all COVID-19 restrictions – until the rest of the Canada and other countries do the same.

“Phase four is more of a national, international discussion,” she said.

“That is not a decision that can be made specific to the N.W.T. It’s where the rest of Canada is, and globally as well.”

Meanwhile, the federal government said Thursday, March 11, would be a national day of observance regarding COVID-19. Flags are set to fly at half mast in the Northwest Territories as a result.

So far, more than 22,000 Canadians have died of the disease while around 843,000 have contracted the virus.

Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio