A lack of shared medical records is preventing a travel bubble between the Yukon and Northwest Territories, but negotiations to pop those issues are currently underway.
That’s the latest from Minister of Health and Social Services Julie Green, who was questioned on what risk measurements were being used to make border decisions by Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler on May 28.
“The issue about the travel exemption with the Yukon doesn’t have to do with risk assessment,” said Green. “It has to do with verification of people being vaccinated. The Yukon and BC have a common medical record system but ours is different than theirs. There have been some negotiations underway about how to share information between the NWT and the Yukon to verify that people have in fact been vaccinated.”
Semmler noted many people in Inuvik and the Beaufort Delta are effectively isolated from the rest of the territory, as the only way to reach Yellowknife by road is to drive through the Yukon, into British Columbia and on through Alberta before reaching the capital.
In her members statement, she added that many people are unable to afford a plane ticket to Yellowknife.
“The Dempster Highway is the only way in and out of the Beaufort Delta by road. It is our lifeline to the rest of Canada,” she said, adding people were waiting on the ferries to open up to take advantage of a change in how the Yukon territory handles isolation for people with vaccines. “Some still can’t afford this trip, because they can’t afford to drive. Even if they did a weekend trip, they would have to isolate for eight to 14 days when they return.
“We have vaccines in both territories that are leading the country in vaccination rates. We have excellent public health and health care staff on the ground to do contact tracing and testing. We have the covid-19 secretariat monitoring the borders and we know whose arriving in the NWT and have staff to investigate. We have 811 and ProtectNWT set up for residents to contact and put plans in place. We have testing throughout the NWT with quick turnaround now. We have medical travel patients continuing to go for appointments in Alberta over the past year with no reports of medical travel patients returning with Covid-19.”
Semmler asked if it would be possible for travellers to keep a copy of their record with them while crossing the border to answer any questions until an agreement could be reached.
However, Green said while it would be useful for people to carry paperwork showing their immunization, information sharing would open the border to anyone who is already vaccinated. She noted that a system to allow travellers to prove that they are immunization is a debate being held around the world.
“These discussions are well along,” said Green. “I heard the Chief Public Health Officer say on the radio yesterday that she expected them to conclude shortly.”
Semmler noted many countries have required vaccines for entry and as a public health nurse she had administered many of them herself.
She moved on to ask if there was any sort of way to establish a 72-hour exemption for Beaufort Delta residents to be able to cross the Yukon border without having to isolate on return.
Green said the current negotiations underway did not involve time-limits. Semmler asked if time limits could be put in place in the interim until a more concrete system could be hammered out by the two territories.
“We have no road access to Yellowknife,” said Semmler. “There’s no possible way we can go anywhere else in 72 hours if we have to be back across the border.
“There’s ongoing work. Maybe if this discussion could happen, some of our residents could travel in and do what they need to do.”
Green said she would pass on Semmler’s suggestion to the office of the chief public health officer.
Watch the exchange here: