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Early opening of patio dining, outdoor sport events possible, GNWT says

Ivan Russell, left, Director of Public Safety with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and Kami Kandola, Chief Public Health Officer clarified details of the Emerging Wisely plan on relaxing Covid-related restrictions, on Wednesday. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

The GNWT clarified Wednesday several details of its new Emerging Wisely plan on a phased process of relaxing Covid-related restrictions.

RELATED REPORTING: Schools, hair salons may re-open as GNWT announces ease on restrictions

One area that could raise hopes for business owners and diners is that the government is open to solutions that could see dine-in restaurants reopen in late spring rather than early summer.

According to Emerging Wisely, dine-in restaurants wouldn’t be permitted to open until phase two in mid-to-late June.

But Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North, asked in a standing committee meeting of the legislative assembly on Wednesday if patio dining could be an exception to that rule.

Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North speaks during a standing committee meeting on the Emerging Wisely plan on Wednesday morning.
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Chief public health officer Kami Kandola responded that the government “has to allow for creativity” and would consider patio restaurants opening in the first phase.

“Dining in an outdoor setting with good air circulation and the ability to provide the same service with less risk is possible. If people can provide creative solutions for that, it could be moved from phase two to phase one.”

She later added in a press conference that businesses can submit requests for such plans to her office for review.

College classes will have to wait

The GNWT will give permission for schools to open in the first phase but colleges and universities must wait until the third phase, which could be in the late summer or fall.

“(Aurora College students) can’t return to class in order to finish their studies and potentially join the front lines with our nursing staff at Health and Social Services. Can the chief public health officer speak to the reasoning (on that)?” asked Caitlin Cleveland, MLA for Kam Lake.

Kandola responded that the risk of Covid spread is much higher among adults than children, and that indoor gatherings are high-risk locations.

“Dorms are a high-risk scenario. Colleges present higher risks than daycares or elementary schools. If Aurora College can come up with a plan on minimizing risk while providing support, we’re open to that. But, specific to health, it can be difficult to physically distance around demos or models. How would they decrease the risk? We would consider it but colleges or universities would be overcrowding.”

Non-residents and non-essential workers not welcome

Non-essential travel into the NWT isn’t encouraged, said Kandola, especially for people who aren’t deemed essential service workers.

Exceptions would be made for non-residents moving to the territory “who have job offers who are coming here for work purposes and who can produce an employer letter. (They) will be allowed to enter the NWT,” Kandola said.

Compassionate exemptions for non-residents are also possible, however Kandola said non-residents who want to move here to be with their families and who don’t have a job lined up aren’t allowed to enter until the borders are opened up.

Enhanced border control

One of the conditions for moving through the three phases of loosening restrictions is that border controls remain strong.

For that reason, the border check stop at Enterprise will this week be moved to the NWT-Alberta border point, said Ivan Russell, director of the public safety division of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.

“The checkpoint (will be moved) to the border area to address concerns people had in accessing the area. There’s a great deal of interest in the cabins and campgrounds and falls in that area, and it answers concerns from people about Alberta residents coming up and using that area," Russell said. "The NWT area will be for the enjoyment of NWT residents. This issue has been under discussion for some time."

Checkpoint conditions will also be changed to enhance the presence of staff, with a facility that can accommodate six people and a communications system with internet provided by Northwestel.

“When the checkpoint was first put in place, the weather wasn’t favourable to accommodation there,” said Russell. “They work 12 hours a day, 24/7. They switch off from time to time.”

Opening of borders a ways off

The only references to borders in Emerging Wisely relate to keeping security high, but Kandola said some relaxation might be considered if the health outlook across Canada improves in several months.

"In some provinces, the cases (of Covid) are falling and in others, like Ontario and Quebec, there are still high numbers of cases. If across Canada we don't see a second or larger wave and if we see there is good containment and very decreased community spread we could anticipate lifting those travel restrictions earlier, before a new vaccine is developed," she said. "But we’re expecting a larger wave in the fall."

Modified Yellowknife Marathon?

Though Yellowknife has hosted marathon races for at least a decade, Kandola acknowledged that it's one sporting event left out of the otherwise highly-detailed Emerging Wisely addendum.

Outdoor sports can resume in phase one. Activities involving up to 50 people outside are slated for phase two.

Last year’s combined Yellowknife marathon, half-marathon and 10-km running event in August drew a little over 100 runners, according to the results list from YK Multisport.

Kandola said an event of that size wouldn’t be possible under current conditions. However, if it could be capped at 25 people and had physical distancing it could be considered for phase one.