A concerned Tuktoyaktuk resident, who asked to be anonymous, is angry after reading social media posts warning that groups of tourists are still visiting the Beaufort Delta.
The resident has two elderly parents in Aklavik. Their age — coupled with the vulnerability of living in a small community with limited health resources — made the risk of continued tours “unacceptable,” she said.
She raised concerns over two reported Beaufort Delta groups, one reported visiting Tuktoyaktuk, and another visiting Aklavik.
She’s not the only one — former longtime Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen shared her concerns.
“Bigger things have overtaken the agenda here, folks. We’re sorry if you came all this way, or we’re sorry if you were planning to come all this way and now it needs be postponed,” Groenewegen said.
She said it was time to “hunker down” and halt group tours in the NWT during the public health emergency. She also wants more active messaging from the territorial government, arguing operators have been left to self-regulate amid the crisis.
Groenewegen, who runs Greenway Accommodations out of Hay River, said her hotel is empty, “but that’s the way it is. We’ll try to survive.”
Cathie Bolstad, CEO of NWT Tourism, said in a statement March 19 that it was time to get guests home, adding “there is a time for tours and this is not the time.”
Kami Kandola, NWT’s chief public health officer, advised all international tourists as of March 15 to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival or depart. Domestic tourists have been asked to self-monitor.
Communities limited on travel restrictions
Lesa Semmler, MLA of Inuvik Twin Lakes, wrote in a social media post March 19 that the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment was speaking to the travel groups.
The group that traveled to “Tuktoyaktuk was unaware of the community ban and has no further tours schedule,” she wrote, adding the Aklavik group was from Yukon and the territorial government was attempting to contact it.
Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson wrote that Tuktoyaktuk doesn’t have the authority to keep tourists out. The hamlet has requested an amendment to the relevant laws, but was waiting for Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Paulie Chinna to respond, he wrote.
“I am hoping we are able to get the tourist situation under control as soon as possible for our region,” he said.
Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Erwin Elias wrote in a social media statement that neither the hamlet nor the RCMP could stop the tourists. He said it was attempting “to try resolve this very serious concern” with the territorial government.
Aklavik senior administrative officer Fred Behrens also said there were limits to restricting visits to a community, “especially if they’re Canadians, and it seems like most of them have been.”
With closed borders, it’s little else but Canadians, he said, and few of them have even arrived.
The chief public health officer will ultimately have to decide on movement, according to infrastructure minister Katrina Nokleby.
“The only person who can restrict traffic within the territory is the public health officer,” Nokleby told reporters Friday.
Tourism operators were largely adhering to special measures, she said, calm and caution without rushing to assumptions.
The hamlet has shut down its buildings, and Inuvialuit Development Corporation has also shut its office down to all public and non-essential residents, said Behrens. There have also been no visitors to his office, he said.
Behrens advised residents to follow the health department’s guidelines.
“If the virus does get into a small community, we definitely could have some challenges,” he said, adding that the health department has done a “bang-up job.”
Ulukhaktok Mayor Laverna Klengenberg also told NNSL Media last week she was pleased with the support from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
Groenewegen, meanwhile, said this is no to time “bury our heads in the sand.” Tourism operators like herself shouldn’t hope the virus will go away, or that it won’t affect their businesses, she said.
“We are going to have to face it and deal with it and we need somebody to take the charge. And that should be the government of the Northwest Territories,” Groenewegen said.