The Government of the Northwest Territories announced on Friday that all indoor gatherings will be be banned effective tomorrow.
A news conference was held featuring Dr. Kami Kandola, Chief Public Health Officer, Katrina Nokleby, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Infrastructure, and Diane Thom, Minister of Health and Social Services. The three introduced added emergency measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that will take effect this weekend with legal enforcement for those that do not comply.
Earlier in the week, the GNWT announced its intent to back up its orders with an NWT Compliance and Enforcement Taskforce. With Friday’s emergency measures, officials threatened that it will have the power to “track down and investigate complaints” concerning violations of the Public Health Act or directives made by Kandola.
“Our message has always been that public health measures will get stronger before they let up,” Thom said. “With the leadership of the Chief Public Health Officer we have moved forward with some of the most aggressive policies in the country.
“While we provided advice weeks ago, we are confident that it is necessary to put legal weight behind these measures to respond to this unprecedented threat.”
Anything that brings together people who don’t live together – including things like house parties, funerals, meetings, feasts, bonfires, church services or team sports- will be banned Thom said.
This was to take effect on Saturday, April 11 at noon.
Kandola also ordered any outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people banned.
According to a news release issued Friday, a gathering is defined as “a group of people of any size who do not live in the same household who are not able to maintain social (physical) distance indoors.”
Kandola said the most important thing residents can do to stem the spread of Covid-19 is to practice social distancing, or staying six feet apart from others.
“We all need to keep our social circles small,” she said. “I recognize this is going to be a huge adjustment for (NWT residents). It is not lost on me that this will affect mental health.”
She said people should get creative, pointing to churches holding online sermons, groups of Facebook and virtual kitchen parties.
“Go outdoors,” she said. “This is a healthy way to decrease stress.”
“We are in this for months, not weeks, and if we’re not all on the same team, it could be much longer,” Thom said.
She added that those who ignore new orders and measures: “We’re coming for you.”
Protecting resource sector and private companies
Friday’s measures also included that some businesses will be ordered closed, and strict measures are to be implemented on mining and oil and gas sites.
This includes screening of transient workers when they arrive in the NWT and when they depart, and follow-up calls with those that leave the territory, according to Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Katrina Nokleby said.
Nokleby added that southern workers would be segregated from Northern workers where possible.
This order came into effect Friday, April 10 at noon.
Workers are ordered to “practice 14 days of social distancing before returning to the worksite and report any symptoms,” according to the news release issued Friday.
“They will be screened and temperature checked before they return to site. Employees must also self-monitor closely and immediately report any sign of symptoms. Employees must also self-monitor closely and immediately report any sign of symptoms.”
Employers are also expected to ensure compliance with social distancing protocols for workers on site.
“Companies will be held responsible if they do not have the right processes and enforcement policies in-place,” states the release.
The GNWT is also ordering companies to “use the absolute minimum amount of workers to continue operation” and adds that this will be monitored by the Workers’ Safety and Compensation.
“Public health will act on any violations they discover,” reads the release.
People with symptoms of the coronavirus will be expected to self-isolate immediately and the mine’s medical director will be in contact with the Kandola’s office.
Other orders now in place
The GNWT is also ordering companies to have workplace risk assessments in place to address all travel to work sites. Employees with high risk of having covid-19 are to be refused travel to site.
Other health and safety related measures include bans to buffet-style catering, high quality disinfecting and cleaning requirements in common areas, and signs erected to show open areas are now closed. These include gyms, recreational areas, communal areas, movie theatres and personal services.
“The situation is evolving quickly across Canada which is why these additional measures announced today are needed,” Nokleby said.
“By implementing these measures we continue to ensure the right precautions are in place from the risks of having southern transient workers from entering the territory.”
Colour-coded risky businesses
As part of the new measures, Kandola told reporters that all NWT businesses are being colour-coded to categorize their operational hazards to public health.
Red, or high-risk businesses pose the highest risk and are not allowed to remain open. These include tour operators, bottle depots, gyms and fitness centres, museums and art galleries, bars and nightclubs, theatres and movie theatres, and dine-in portions of restaurants. Others in this category include personal service businesses where physical distancing is not possible. These include places like barber shops, hair salons, tattoo and piercing services, spas, nail salons, massage therapists, aestheticians, naturopathic practitioners, acupuncturists and chiropractic services.
Other businesses are essential to the functioning to the territory and are are categorized as green. They include places like grocery stores, gas bars and stations, banks, pharmacies, and liquor stores.
Kandola said there are other businesses that are of lesser risk that can remain open if they can make modifications to their practices. Among them include takeout, drive-thru or delivery restaurants, corner stores and large retail stores.
“I have been impressed with the ingenuity of our business community’s response to covid-19 – touchless methods of online delivery and online video and other ingenious methods have been great.”
Enforcing companies and individuals
Conrad Baetz, the newly appointed deputy chief public health officer under Kandola will be overseeing enforcement efforts.
Kandola said that there will be varying levels of severity as it comes to enforcement depending on any given violation. Punishments can range from warnings or public education to tickets and imprisonment, Kandola said.
Kandola said violations to public health orders or the Public Health Act can lead to a $50,000, if it involves a corporation and up to $10,000 or six months imprisonment if involving an individual – depending on the severity of the situation.
“If someone was diagnosed with covid-19 and was having a party at their place, that would be different than if someone encroached on the six feet(minimum) distance outside,” she said.
As of the end of day Friday, there were five confirmed cases in the territory with 1397 completed tests. Of those there were 1392 that were negative, according to the Department of Health and Social Services website.
To date are also 77 tests pending and one recovered case.
with reporting from Craig Gilbert