Yellowknife politicians say parents are telling them changes to self-isolation rules for people reentering the NWT don’t go far enough because they don’t include children younger than 12.
Chief public health officer (CPHO) Dr. Kami Kandola announced on June 21 that vaccinated residents, non-resident essential service workers and other vaccinated travellers with exemptions no longer need to self-isolate upon entry to the NWT.
Kandola’s recommendation against travel for only essential reasons was also lifted.
Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby said constituents’ responses to the June 21 announcement included excitement about the option to travel again but also frustration over some details of the new rule.
“The ones with kids under 12 are still angry that it won’t apply to them,” she said, referring to the requirement that travelling family members with differing vaccination status must isolate together when returning.
For example, children under the age of 12, who cannot yet be vaccinated, have to self-isolate for at least 10 days with negative test on the 10th day. Children under two don’t need to take a test on day 10 but only isolate until then, according to CPHO regulations.
“I think they feel like nothing is changing for them because they have kids and they’re disappointed,” Nokleby said.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said his constituents have expressed the same sentiment.
Among territorial neighbours, Nunavut’s policy is the same as the NWT’s, but the Yukon government on June 18 stated that children under 12 returning to the territory wouldn’t have to self-isolate if they’re with fully vaccinated parents or guardians, who also don’t have to isolate.
Yukon chief medical officer of health Dr. Brendan Hanley said the changes were recommended based on lower risk of transmission from children, Yukon News reported.
‘Creepy and totalitarian’
One Yellowknife resident, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed irritation over the new rules and said the lifting of self-isolation requirements doesn’t help parents with children under 12.
“We had to apply for an exemption for our fully-vaccinated family members. I have trouble with this,” he said.
Residents can apply to ProtectNWT for travel exemptions so they can receive visitors for compassionate reasons, family reunifications (including “close relations” or parents) and exceptional circumstances, such as for pre-relocation house hunting trips, according to the ProtectNWT website.
The same exemption categories have been in place since the pandemic public health emergency began, said COVID-19 Secretariat spokesperson Dawn Ostrem.
The male complainant said the government seems to be “rubber-stamping these applications, thankfully.
“But we shouldn’t be required to beg the government to let our family into the territory. There’s just something very creepy and totalitarian about that,” he said. “The CPHO still hasn’t explained why fully vaccinated non-residents are not allowed in without permission. I shouldn’t have to ask the government for permission to bring my family here at this stage.”
Purpose is to manage risk: GNWT
In response to questions about the rationale for entry rules, Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Darren Campbell said generally “this is about managing risk and protecting the NWT’s health-care system.”
“The NWT’s highest risk of an outbreak or community spread is by importation through travellers and the evolution of variants of concern. As we have seen in the N.J. Macpherson School outbreak and in the current outbreak in the Yukon, the virus can spread quickly in unvaccinated segments of the population and then in those households,” said Campbell.
At least 291 exemption applications have been submitted to ProtectNWT since June 21, Campbell said, a number “not unanticipated.”
After the self-isolation requirement changes of June 21, as the school year ends and as vaccination levels rise across the country, the GNWT anticipates out-of-territory travel will increase along with the number of self-isolation plans (SIPs) submitted to ProtectNWT, he added.
Each application is assessed by the CPHO. The GNWT hasn’t yet prepared information on how many have been accepted or rejected, nor broken down the reasons for most applications.
Overtime for ProtectNWT staff members working to process SIPs has been authorized, Campbell said.
Under Emerging Wisely 2021, the GNWT aims to permit all fully vaccinated travellers to visit the NWT by late summer or early fall, though they will still have to submit SIPs.