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GNWT must honour new Covid-19 rules, says Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler

Says the GNWT needs to open restrictions as soon as the immunization levels are reached.
Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler says the GNWT needs to be ready to move forward with its new emerging wisely plans as soon as the criteria for loosening restrictions is met. She adds she’s happy to see the new exceptions for travel across the NWT-Yukon border. NNSL file photo

Yellowknife’s new emerging wisely plans are a step in the right direction, but the GNWT needs to honour its commitments if people do their part and get immunized against Covid-19.

That’s what Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler thinks of the new plan, released June 9, one week after new Yukon travel exemptions were announced.

Under the new emerging wisely approach, outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people are now allowed. When at least 65 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated, or 75 per cent are partially vaccinated, indoor gatherings up to 200 will also be permitted.

When 75 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated and there are less than 1,000 daily cases over a seven-day average, all restrictions will be lifted. Semmler said the GNWT needs to hold to that commitment.

“If that’s what the plan states, then that needs to be immediate,” she said. “That needs to prove to us, the residents of the Northwest Territories, that you’re going to stick to your plan. As soon as we reach less than 1,000 cases a day, that restriction needs to be lifted immediately.”

Semmler questioned how different provinces and territories were all coming up with different rules if all of them were basing their decisions on science.

She also wondered aloud what the GNWT intends to do if a community is lagging behind in getting its immunizations, since the territory is still using an average of the entire population as its threshold to move to the next phase of its plan.

“What if there are communities that just chose to not to get vaccinated?” she said. “There are communities that are low in vaccination numbers. If we can’t get them up — because we’re such a small territory of numbers — a couple of communities are really going to affect us and we’ll end up plateauing.

“So if we plateau, do we just stick to this and never move out of it?”

A third area she questioned was how much of the plan revolves around the rest of Canada keeping its Covid-19 cases down. With outbreaks continuing to spike and plans to resume festivals in several major cities, including the Calgary Stampede, she said she wasn’t very optimistic.

Eight days after Dr. Kami Kandola announced new exemption rules for travelling to the Yukon, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer issued a travel advisory amid a spike in cases, including an outbreak declared at the Eagle Gold Mine.

Border exemptions long overdue

Semmler is far more optimistic about the new exemptions for travelling to the Yukon, noting many people in the Beaufort Delta rely on access to Whitehorse for a variety of reasons.

Under the new emerging wisely plans, NWT and Yukon residents travelling between the two territories can apply for an exemption plan through ProtectNWT.

“There’s a little bit of loopholes to jump through, but baby steps are better than no steps,” she said. “People in the south who’ve never been to the Beaufort Delta don’t realize that we’re not connected to the Northwest Territories by roads. People (in Yellowknife) have said ‘Why bother? We would have to drive through B.C.’ — but it’s not for the south. This was specifically fought for the Beaufort Delta because we can’t get to Yellowknife. We can’t get to these essential services by road. People can’t afford to fly, especially with their family.

“A lot of people are stranded and need their vehicles and stuff like that. So it’s a good thing for us, especially with summer coming up.”

She added many people in the Beaufort Delta had been waiting to pick up items they purchased in Whitehorse before the pandemic was declared.

Even as the CPHO advises anyone travelling to the Yukon to keep up on where Covid-19 exposures have occurred, the exemptions remain in place. The Yukon rules are determined separately from the emerging wisely ones.

While she was happy her constituents can finally head to Whitehorse to rest, renew and re-supply, Semmler said she wasn’t planning to make a run to the Yukon border as of yet.

“I don’t know if I will have time,” she said. “I’m still doing a lot of travelling for committees.”

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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