As the Northwest Territories prepares to lift its public health emergency at midnight on April 1, health and community management authorities are shifting from an emergency approach to a “state of Covid readiness.”
In a press conference on March 31, NWT chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola confirmed that the territory would lift its public health emergency at midnight on April 1, as previously announced at the end of February. This means the remaining health measures, including indoor mask mandates and mandatory isolation for those infected with Covid, will no longer be enforced.
Proof of vaccine requirements for businesses, capacity limits for gatherings and isolation requirements for travellers, were already lifted at the beginning of March.
Although Covid-19 infections are still being recorded in the NWT, Kandola said all of these new infections are being attributed to the more infectious but less harmful Omicron variant, which means “Covid-19 infections are less likely to overwhelm our healthcare system.”
She said there has been one death per 1,000 cases in the territory since the beginning of the Omicron wave.
“Covid-19 is not going away, and it will likely remain in some form or another as a seasonal illness that mostly comes in the winter months,” she said.
As of March 31, there were 630 confirmed active cases of coronavirus in the territory. In total, there have been more than 11,300 confirmed Covid cases in the NWT since the beginning of the pandemic.
Instead of the ongoing public health emergency and related measures, responsibility for managing outbreaks of the virus will be transferred to the Emergency Management Office (EMO) of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA). Sonya Saunders, assistant deputy minister for MACA regional operations, said more resources would be provided to the EMO to address emergencies of all kinds. This includes future outbreaks of Covid-19, as well as floods and wildfires of the kind that struck the territory last year.
She said several new roles would be created in the EMO, with a focus on improving community representation. However, she couldn’t provide a firm number of jobs or how much funding will fuel the EMO’s growth.
In anticipation of a spring wave of Covid cases, the territory’s Protect NWT information line will remain active, even as much of the rest of the Covid Secretariat has already been dismantled with the easing of restrictions.
Dr. Katherine Kessler, deputy territorial medical director, said masks will still be mandatory in health facilities after April 1, and that the territory would continue to evaluate the necessity of this measure in the future.