Yukon unveils next steps to ease COVID-19 restrictions

·3 min read
Yukon's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley at a press conference in November. In a statement Friday Hanley said the territory will need to maintain some COVID-19 restrictions in order to reduce others. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)
Yukon's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley at a press conference in November. In a statement Friday Hanley said the territory will need to maintain some COVID-19 restrictions in order to reduce others. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)

The Yukon government unveiled its strategy on Friday to ease some of its pandemic restrictions.

The strategy outlines what will need to happen before the territory will reduce or modify some of its COVID-19 restrictions, including changes to self-isolation requirements, expanding social bubbles and easing capacity limits inside bars and restaurants.

The two-step approach titled A Path Forward: Next Steps, will look to strengthen some current public health measures and vaccinate as many people as possible before gradually reducing restrictions.

The plan hinges on the territory's overall vaccination rate, the new case count remaining low, the understanding and impact of the COVID-19 variants, no community spread and ongoing adherence to public health measures.

"The coming weeks will be a balance between keeping some key measures in place while easing others. Restrictions will need to remain in place as we work to immunize as many Yukoners as possible," said Premier Sandy Silver in a statement.

"Measures such as the requirement to self-isolate upon entry to Yukon continue to be our best means of keeping the virus out of our communities."

Potential changes to self-isolation

When it is safe to do so, the territory plans to ease some self-isolation restrictions. It will look to broaden the scope for alternative self-isolation plans to include more work-isolations, tourism industry isolation and consider expanding alternative locations to self-isolate. Yukon will also look to bubble with other provinces and territories.

The plan will also look to change physical distancing or mandatory mask requirements, in partnership with other Canadian jurisdictions, and increase social bubbles to 20 people or fewer.

A move toward 100 per cent capacity in bars and restaurants will be considered with high vaccination rates, coupled with compliance with operational plans. Gyms and recreation centres would be allowed to increase capacity, with approved plans.

The territory will look to relax distancing and masking requirements in schools, and look to return to full day of classes for Grades 10 – 12 when the territory achieves "high vaccination rates" and "improved understanding of variants."

It will also look to relax some requirements for education and childcare facilities.

"Unorganized" social gatherings would go up to 20 from 10 people currently. Organized indoor gatherings would be allowed up to a venue's capacity.

Outdoor organized events would be allowed up to 200 people, up from the current 100.

The plan also looks to consider ways to modify guidelines to allow for larger and safer gatherings for potlatches, celebrations of life and weddings when supported by high vaccination rates and low COVID-19 activity.

No specific dates of when the territory may start to ease restrictions were mentioned. The territory expects to remain in this next phase until the end of 2021.

The territory's state of emergency under the Civil Emergency Measures Act will continue to be in place "as long as there is significant risk to our population of COVID-19 infection, or until we establish another tool to enforce public health measures," according to the strategy.

A further easing of restrictions, including lifting the state of emergency and eliminating most public heath measures, will be based on risk assessments that consider vaccine effectiveness against the COVID-19 variants, the progress of the national vaccine rollout and the epidemiology of the virus in the territory and in neighbouring jurisdictions.

"The need to create and maintain the best balance between protecting Yukoners from the spread of COVID-19 and protecting their health and well-being will be our biggest challenge in the coming months," said Yukon's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley in a statement.

"We are facing very different circumstances today than when we released our original Path Forward plan in May. We will need to maintain some restrictions in order to reduce others. There is no quick or easy resolution to living with COVID-19."