The Northwest Territories government delayed plans to welcome tourists back into the territory, instead choosing to adjust isolation requirements for residents ahead of the holidays.
Isolation will now be based on the traveller's vaccination status instead of their least-vaccinated household member. People living with returning travellers no longer have to isolate with them.
“The overall vaccination status of the N.W.T. means the chief public health officer no longer needs to impose restrictions beyond the traveller unless they become a contact or part of an outbreak,” an N.W.T. government briefing document stated.
Children under the age of 12 now do not have to isolate if more than 14 days but fewer than eight weeks have passed since their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. To skip isolation, they must also be tested on days one and eight of their return to the N.W.T.
That change was first announced weeks ago and some residents were already operating on the understanding it had been implemented. However, the territorial government said the rule only takes effect from Friday.
All children who are not eligible for the vaccine still need to isolate, but household members who are fully vaccinated do not need to do so alongside them.
“It will allow more freedoms for children who have travelled, while also protecting others in vulnerable settings. Therefore, maintaining public safety with the least amount of necessary public health restrictions,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola was quoted as saying.
“We must work toward less schooling disruptions, social isolation, and more access to resources that impact mental and physical well-being of children and their families.”
Newborn babies up to six months old being brought back to the territory that have fully vaccinated parents don't have to isolate. The territory said research shows immunity is passed on by the birthing parent through the placenta and remains for about six months.
Forty-four percent of children aged five to 11 have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 76 percent of the N.W.T. population aged five and up are fully vaccinated.
Those who are not fully vaccinated still must self-isolate for 10 days upon arriving back in the N.W.T. but may be able to leave isolation on day eight if they get a COVID-19 test on that day that comes back negative.
Fully vaccinated travellers do not need to self-isolate upon arriving back in the N.W.T. but must monitor for symptoms.
During the three days after their return to the territory, returning travellers are asked to limit their contact with other households, avoid large gatherings and high-risk activities, and wear well-fitted masks.
GNWT employees have received an email, seen by Cabin Radio, instructing them to work from home for the first three calendar days after getting back into the N.W.T. Exceptions to this may apply for some essential workers.
People need to get tested if they are travelling to a small community or working with vulnerable populations, the territory said.
International travellers will need additional testing on day one and eight if they are coming back to the N.W.T. within 10 days of returning to Canada.
There is no longer a separate set of isolation instructions for partially vaccinated residents aged 12 and older.
"New variants of COVID-19, like the Omicron variant, are turning into the most common strain. These variants are showing shorter incubation periods and not enough immunity to distinguish between partially and fully vaccinated," said the territorial government.
Everyone travelling must still submit a self-isolation plan to the territorial government. If you have already submitted one, it will be updated automatically by the territorial government to reflect the new changes.
Friday's new orders “still do not allow for leisure travel" to the N.W.T., the territorial government said, citing a high rate of COVID-19 infection across the country and lack of data regarding the Omicron variant.
Non-residents who need to come to the N.W.T. can apply for exemptions, as has been the practice since the pandemic began.
The territorial government initially announced a news conference devoted entirely to leisure travel earlier this week, but subsequently postponed that news conference before turning it into Friday's separate announcement on isolation measures.
The original news conference was to have included N.W.T. Tourism boss Donna Lee Demarcke and tourism minister Caroline Wawzonek, and was expected to indicate the territory was prepared to start welcoming tourists.
Asked on Friday about the change, Dr. Kandola said her office “had anticipated taking the next step ... by accepting fully vaccinated leisure travel," but had decided this week to scrap that plan for the time being.
“Unfortunately, what we are seeing right now across Canada and globally regarding the Omicron variant means that this is no longer the case,” she said.
“The current landscape poses too much of a risk at this time to open up tourism just yet.”
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has prompted the federal government to advise against non-essential travel abroad over the holidays.
Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio