The NWT officially entered the second phase of the Emerging Wisely Covid-19 recovery plan on Friday afternoon.
A number of restrictions on public life can be lifted, with more businesses, facilities and offices now given the green light to opening. Outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people are now permitted. Several safety precautions will remain in place such as maintaining two metres of physical distancing, washing hands frequently and wearing a non-medical mask in public.
The announcement was made during a news conference Friday led by Premier Caroline Cochrane, Health Minister Diane Thom, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola and Conrad Baetz, deputy chief public health officer and head of the NWT Compliance and Enforcement Task Force.
The entry into the new phase comes as the territory has gone 69 days with no new cases of Covid-19, said Cochrane, and four weeks after it began the first phase of recovery from the pandemic lockdown.
RELATED REPORTING: NWT moves into first phase of relaxing Covid-19 restrictions
"We can go overnight camping. Kids summer camps and education facilities can open with some measures in place. Government offices can open safely but it might take some time (to organize that). Restaurants and theatres can open. Outdoor funerals can double in size. Faith communities can now gather inside up to 25 people. We recommend virtual faith gatherings continue. Indoor and outdoor sports gathering can happen, with some exceptions," she said.
Offices can open to a maximum of 25 people on any one floor, a GNWT news release said.
Restaurants and bars can also open if there are less than 25 people indoors, and no more than 50 people in outdoor dining areas and patios. Live musical performances and dance floors are still prohibited.
It was not yet clear when the reduced hours at liquor stores and the $200 limit on liquor purchases would be changed. NNSL Media has inquired with the Department of Finance and is awaiting a response.
New travel order
A new order on travel restrictions has been introduced after a week of mixed messages from the GNWT sparked confusion among the public and MLAs in the legislative assembly.
Both Kandola and Thom stated in the news conference that leisure travel and sightseeing into the NWT is prohibited and visitors seeking to receive an exemption for travel will not receive one.
Travellers entering the NWT by land or air will be informed by border officials that they can turn around and if they refuse they will be ticketed and charged $2,500 with a $225 surcharge.
"They would be fined each day they remain in the territory. If they show up at the airport they will be informed that proceeding further is an offence. They must stay in the airport" until they can board the next flight and if they don't they will be ticketed, Kandola explained.
Apology for confusion
Kandola clarified that the announcement made on Wednesday by herself, Cochrane and Thom, that said non-essential travellers could proceed in the NWT after they self-isolated for 14 days was old news, and the new order is effective today.
RELATED REPORTING: Non-residents can enter NWT, must self-isolate, GNWT clarifies
The premier apologized for the communications problems that left NWT residents scratching their heads after it was revealed in Wednesday's announcement that after May 29 the previous restriction on travel into the NWT had been somewhat relaxed even though the GNWT hadn't officially informed the public.
"On May 29 there was a change because of the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) challenge that was happening. We recognize we made mistakes. We realize that we need to be more timely and we do owe the public as much information was possible. I take ownership and I do apologize for the lack of communication that was shared with the public," Cochrane said.
Permitted entry for non-residents
Non-residents performing essential services are still permitted to enter as usual.
Several categories of non-residents seeking to enter the NWT for work are also allowed to enter, including people starting new jobs and students attending post-secondary institutions. Those individuals must provide self-isolation plan documentation, which has to be approved before they proceed. They must also self-isolate for 14 days in the four isolation hubs of Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River and Inuvik.
The chief public health officer can grant exceptional circumstance approvals for non-residents visiting for family reunification, compassionate reasons or funerals, Kandola said.
Phase two also brings with it a travel bubble with Nunavut, in which NWT residents can visit their territorial neighbour without needing to self-isolate upon returning. Nunavut residents can visit the NWT without self-isolating, however they must still self-isolate when returning to Nunavut.
Kandola cautioned residents that opening up society entails taking on added risk in the face of the pandemic threat.
"With the Covid pandemic progressing globally, Phase Two means we need you to take precautions seriously now more than ever. Canada must prepare for a second wave of Covid infections this fall. A second wave will threaten our territory and could overwhelm our health systems and small communities.
"There is too much at stake to allow the pandemic to sweep across our territory as it has in so many other places. Our best defense is each other. I will recommend again: Get used to wearing a non-medical mask when you’re out, (it) will slow the spread of the virus. Wash your hands and do it a lot. If you're sick, stay home. Keep your physical distance. Two metres is bigger than you think. We can get through this together but only if we stay apart."