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Campgrounds in NWT expected to open as usual in May

Campgrounds and parks, such as Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park will probably open on May 15 as usual and not earlier, said Tourism Minister Caroline Wawzonek, on Tuesday. NNSL photo

Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) Minister Caroline Wawzonek said in the legislative assembly Tuesday that opening campgrounds to bookings April 30 is “not in the plan.”

She anticipates most parks will open as usual on May 15 or on the May 24 long weekend.

“For us and for the facilities that we have, for the contractors that we have, they are going to need time, once it thaws enough, to go in there,” she said.

Last year park opening dates were delayed until June 12 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Camper numbers were capped at lower numbers than usual and access to campgrounds was controlled through a ticketing system and limited access for overnight and drive-in areas.

Wawzonek was responding to a question from Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, who asked if the NWT could do what the Yukon did on Tuesday, when that territory announced its campgrounds would open on May 1.

The minister said that it cost $200,000 to extend the campground season into late September last year, something that could possibly be done again, however "the traditional
opening is there for that reason. We have not had an outpouring of folks asking for the
earlier start."

Campgrounds incentive program possible

Wawzonek said ITI is considering rolling out its campgrounds coupon incentive program again this year.

“It did seem to be very successful. It was highly subscribed,” she said.

That program gave residents an extra night of camping if they booked a site for five nights.

The exchange in the assembly comes as there are few indications NWT residents will be able to travel outside the territory this summer without having to isolate upon their return.

On Feb. 24, chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola said there are no plans to open the border with Yukon, and that territory hasn't indicated it will ease travel restrictions, either.

Anyone entering the western neighbour's borders must still self-isolate for 14 days, she said.

The volume of out-of-territory travel that runs through the Yukon is another factor in keeping the border restrictions in place.

“We also have to take into consideration the route that Alaskans travel through Yukon to get into B.C. and that also people can enter the Yukon if they’re traveling through Alberta and B.C,” she said.

And in January, Kandola said it was too early to make summer plans to travel outside the territory or to receive non-resident visitors.

Kandola explained on March 4 that the progress of vaccinations across the rest of Canada would be a factor in decisions to relax border rules.

“Transmission rates across Canada and in other parts of the world are still high. We still need to get 75 per cent of our eligible adult population vaccinated.” she said.

"As vaccinations progress across the North and Canada, and transmissions start falling elsewhere, more targeted and permissive travel restrictions may be considered. We continue to track important variables as we determine when the time is right to ease some of these measures."

More research needed on vaccines

Another issue is whether vaccinated individuals can still transmit Covid-19.

It's known that Covid-19 vaccines can prevent severe illness from the virus but Kandola said more research is needed before it's known if vaccinated people can pass on coronavirus.

"We need to learn more about vaccine effectiveness on transmission of the virus and on emerging variants. We must also recognize that the vaccine is not currently approved to be administered to anyone under the age of 18, so some measures must be maintained to protect them and others who can’t take the vaccine for whatever reason."

A spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said of the three vaccines approved for use in Canada – Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca – it's still unknown if vaccinated people can spread coronavirus.

“As the developers of the vaccines work to understand Covid-19 immunity of their products, PHAC is focusing on the public health measures known to be effective, including wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining physical distancing.”

A spokesperson for Moderna, the vaccine slated for use in the vaccination campaigns of the three territories was not immediately available for comment.