Restrictions on outdoor activities are to be eased next week.
The change will follow the release of the territory’s new pandemic recovery plan, chief public health officer (CPHO) Dr. Kami Kandola told a committee of MLAs June 3.
A revised Emerging Wisely document will be released to the public on June 9, Kandola told members of the standing committee on accountability and oversight (AOC).
Members of the committee will get access to the plan two days earlier, June 7, along with the rest of the MLAs of the 19th Legislative Assembly.
Kandola deferred to that date questions from MLAs that probed beyond the broad strokes she described the new plan in during the sweltering evening meeting, which ended with newly minted chair Kevin O’Reilly, MLA for Frame Lake, noting the temperature in the room had become uncomfortable. It wasn’t clear why.
Folk on the Rocks, farmers markets and barbecue gatherings will be possible under the new Emerging Wisely, Kandola said. But “high-risk” activities will remain banned until more NWT residents are vaccinated.
“We will also be reviewing the travel restrictions and isolation requirements,” she said.
The new Emerging Wisely will do away with the phased approach of the original plan, by which measure the NWT has stayed in phase two for almost one year.
Instead, the new plan will “have a strong focus on personal risk mitigation and guidance,” according to Health Minister Julie Green. “Each of us will need to identify the risks in our current environment and determine the best way to mitigate them.”
Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler is worried about risks beyond COVID-19 infections. She said without clear direction on isolation periods before the summer, the territory puts professionals such as teachers in a difficult position.
“After 14 months, if people know they still have to isolate when they return after summer, we’re going to lose teachers and it’s mostly going to be in the small communities. I’m really worried. We need those answers before summer.”
Kandola said relaxing indoor gatherings would depend on vaccine uptake.
“We have other criteria related to national uptake and daily case counts which based on our current coverage, all of this will be done by September.”
Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos pressed Kandola for a timeline on an end to post-travel isolation periods.
The top doctor wouldn’t commit to a date on opening the border, but teased the NWT is “further ahead than other jurisdictions” and that is reflected in the revised plan.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said the original Emerging Wisely put the NWT in phase four, a return to normal life, when there was a COVID-19 vaccine.
“It doesn’t give me much faith in getting a new plan when we haven’t followed the original one,” he said.
Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby likewise said she was concerned the removal of the phased approach implies no targets will be in the plan.
“We didn’t see those upheld or even followed in the first plan so I’m concerned they’ve been completely removed in the second plan? Will the updated plan have thresholds on loosening restrictions?”
Kandola said the plan will have indicators and timelines, progressing in line with vaccination indicators through the summer into the fall.
“What is unique about this plan is we can use vaccine coverage,” Kandola said. “We didn’t have that in early 2020 and so we used the phased approach anticipating the vaccines would be available in phase four.”
Are a few vax skeptics holding up the NWT?
In a separate question, Semmler asked whether individuals or communities that are consistently reluctant to be vaccinated will impede the rest of the territory’s progress.
Kandola pointed to the GNWT’s vaccine encouragement initiative that offers up to $10,000 for communities to launch vaccine programs among residents.
“Ultimately though, when we get to the point where we have to lift the travel restrictions it would be important to have as high coverage as possible. Just because I get vaccinated doesn’t make you safe if you choose not to get vaccinated. That’s an important message to transmit.”