Many of us have enjoyed our short summer, staycationing within the safety of our NWT bubble and experiencing the wonders that our territory has to offer. I expect many of us have also anticipated the coming of autumn with a certain amount of dread, given that Dr. Kandola has repeatedly warned us of a second Covid-19 wave that is likely to hit as the chilly months arrive and people are driven increasingly indoors. I think we are all steeling ourselves for what might be coming down the pipe as the winds blow colder. Will restrictions tighten up? Will we be stuck in our homes again? Will schools shut down?
Over the past five months, during which we have had no active Covid-19 cases in our communities, Dr. Kandola has stayed the course by maintaining strict quarantine restrictions on anyone (including residents) entering our territory to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This extreme approach has undoubtedly worked. There have been no deaths and our health care system has not been overrun by Covid-19. The price however has been steep for local businesses and separated families.
During this five-month reprieve, I hope that our senior officials have spent the time to come up with improved border-control plans that can successfully keep the coronavirus at bay while easing quarantine requirements. Unfortunately, to date all we know is that the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days will continue indefinitely into the future.
Meanwhile, other similar Northern jurisdictions have figured out alternatives to quarantine measures that are also effective at preventing entry of the coronavirus. In Iceland, people arriving into the country have the option to submit two screening tests for Covid-19, separated by five days of quarantine until the results of the second test are known. Those who test negative both times can enter the country without the need for 14-day quarantine. In Greenland, those entering the country must show a negative screening test not older than five days from an approved lab, and they are only able to travel to certain major towns and tourism destinations. There have been no active Covid-19 cases in Greenland since mid-August.
So why can’t we do something like that here? Can’t people entering the NWT have the option to either quarantine for 14 days or submit negative Covid-19 tests? Both seem to be very effective means of preventing the entry of the coronavirus, and testing has much less of a negative impact on our lives.
For months we’ve been promised that rapid Covid-19 testing will be coming to the territory, but to date the limited test kits that we have are being reserved for critical care workers and in anticipation of a future outbreak. Rapid testing is not available to the average person in the NWT, even though it seems to be in much of the rest of the country. In Alberta, anyone can get tested at participating pharmacies and clinics, whether they have symptoms or not. You can conveniently book tests and access results online. In B.C., the Vancouver airport and WestJet are even rolling out voluntary testing on select flights.
Why are we so behind in having rapid testing available to the average person? Money can’t be the issue, given that our premier just announced that the GNWT is gearing up to drop $87 million on itself for the creation of a new Covid-19 secretariat. Is it supply? Maybe. But the fact is that many other parts of the country have made testing much more readily available to the public than we have.
Getting publicly available testing up and running in this territory and having test results inform border restrictions is about way more than the frivolous need to cruise down to Edmonton to hit the mall. What about the teacher that has to go south for medical, which under current quarantine rules means their absence will interrupt our children’s learning for more than two weeks? What of our decimated economy, so reliant as it is on supplies, labour, and clients from the south? What of the families that have been kept apart for months? Let’s get on it and make testing a viable alternative to quarantine already.