The Northwest Territories is “turning a corner” on Covid-19 and is on track to lift its public health emergency this spring, according to the NWT’s deputy chief public health officer.
In a press conference on Feb. 9, Dr. André Corriveau said the territory is on track to ease restrictions and lift its public health emergency in the coming months.
Several jurisdictions in Canada are already easing restrictions: Officials in both Alberta and Saskatchewan have said they will remove nearly all Covid restrictions, including vaccine passports and mask mandates, in the next few weeks.
However, Corriveau said the territory hasn’t yet seen the consistent decline in cases necessary to begin easing restrictions. “We are at least one week away from that steady decline,” he said.
He also said there is, as of yet, no timeline for which restrictions will be eased at what time.
“We are turning the corner country-wide, and we are expecting that we will be following very soon,” he said.
He said that “existing restrictions will be lifted on a gradual basis” over the coming months, including the resumption of leisure travel in the near future.
Scott Robertson, the director of public health and primary care services for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, said despite the positive outlook, “We fully expect to see continued disruptions in the healthcare system for many months to come.”
Despite the positive outlook, challenges still persist: Corriveau confirmed that another NWT resident had died of Covid-19 that same morning. He also said three recent Covid-19 deaths in the territory had been at home, which both he and Robertson took as a sign that residents were not quick enough to seek help when experiencing symptoms.
“We want to make sure that people are accessing care if they are concerned about their symptoms,” Robertson said.
Outbreaks have also been confirmed in multiple long-term care facility across the territory, including the extended care unit at Stanton Territorial Hospital. Robertson said that although these outbreaks affect a generally vulnerable population, there is also a high rate of vaccination among the territory’s seniors.
As of 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 9, 18 communities in the NWT (including Yellowknife and its neighbours) also had general Covid advisories in place due to widespread community transmission.
Corriveau also acknowledged the emergence of a variant on the existing Omicron variant, which he described as “a slightly speedier version of Omicron, with a slightly higher transmission rate.” However, given the lesser severity of disease caused by this variant, Corriveau said its arrival in the territory “[wouldn’t] make a big difference on the trajectory we’re in.”
Even with the future of Covid looking positive, both Corriveau and Robertson acknowledged a need to review the state the territory’s health system more generally, which Corriveau said is more “fragile” than those in other jurisdictions.
“We are going to be playing catch-up for months if not years to come,” said Robertson.
“It involves a rethink about where we put our efforts and our resources.”