Yukon health officials take deep breath as territory eases COVID-19 border controls

Yukon's borders will open to outside travellers tomorrow, and even Yukon's chief medical officer of health admits he's nervous.

People from British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut will be able to travel directly to Yukon starting July 1, without the need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Dr. Brendan Hanley said Tuesday he's heard from people both for and against the reopening. He said he sympathizes with those worried that more visitors could mean more COVID-19 cases. Yukon hasn't had an active case of the disease since late April.

"To be completely honest, I'm nervous myself about the weeks ahead of us," he said. "As I've said before, this move is not without risk, but we need to be very clear that keeping the doors closed is also high risk and clearly not sustainable."

The government will also allow travellers from other provinces to enter, starting July 1, as long as they self-isolate in Whitehorse, at their own expense, for two weeks.

Last week, Silver said the change to allow travellers from outside the northwest travel bubble would take place July 15. Silver said the Yukon government is going ahead sooner because COVID-19 numbers across the country are encouraging, though he said the government is still discouraging unnecessary travel.

Restrictions face legal challenge

The Yukon government is also facing a legal challenge over the constitutionality of its COVID-19 restrictions, including border controls. Silver denied any link between the case and the decision to let more Canadians in, even though people behind the suit specifically mention travel restrictions.

Health officials remain publicly confident the risk of transmission from travellers is low. Silver said more than 17,000 people have entered the Yukon since the government imposed border controls in mid-March.

"To say that we're closed up to the rest of the country is not necessarily so," he said. "We've had a lot of people doing the self-isolating already and it seems to be working."

With an increase in visitors expected, the government will begin to open its visitor centres, starting July 1. It will also require anyone entering a Yukon airport to wear a face covering.

Other changes that take effect July 1 include easing the ban on outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people. And restaurants will be allowed to operate at greater than 50 per cent capacity. In both cases, physical distancing must be maintained.