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Yukon travel restrictions could lift before NWT's. Dr. Kandola explains why

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The Yukon might open its border with British Columbia in July and end the requirement for visitors from B.C. to self-isolate for 14 days.

The lifting of the travel restrictions would be part of the Yukon's second phase of recovery from the Covid-19 lockdown, which Premier Sandy Silver and the territory's health chief Dr. Brendan Hanley said on May 29 could start as early as July, according to a Yukon News report.

Silver said phase two could begin on July 1 if health conditions there remain the same.

Chief public health officer Kami Kandola said circumstances differ significantly between the Yukon and NWT. screengrab image

Even though Yukon has had 11 confirmed cases of Covid, it has managed to move through its recovery plan faster than the NWT, where there have been five cases, all recovered as of April 20.

RELATED REPORTING: All five Covid cases in NWT have recovered, GNWT says 

The NWT's western neighbour also allowed restaurants to open on May 29, something the GNWT's Emerging Wisely recovery plan stated will be possible in the second phase, which could go into effect in mid- to late June at the earliest.

However, in an email to NNSL Media on Monday, chief public health officer Kami Kandola cautioned against drawing conclusions based on apparent parallels between the two territories, whose differences in fact outweigh the similarities.

"(Yukon) is considerably less remote than the NWT. There are also far fewer Indigenous communities in Yukon" than in the NWT, where many are accessible only by plane or winter road.

The NWT's remote and Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to contagious diseases like Covid and protecting them is a top priority in the territory's public health response in the pandemic, she said.

Travel-wise, the NWT has more entry points to manage than the Yukon, where its main outside links are the B.C. border to the south and the border with Alaska, which the federal government closed.

"Alberta has the largest outbreak outside eastern Canada – and there are outbreaks in Northern Alberta. Alberta is by far our strongest travel connection – the originating point for most of our flights, and the majority of our road travel comes from Alberta. And while Yukon may share a strong connection with B.C, the outbreak in B.C. does not rival the breadth of the outbreak in Alberta."

As of Tuesday, Alberta had 7,044 confirmed cases of Covid and 143 deaths, while B.C. had 2,597 cases and 166 deaths, according to a report from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

"Our cases actually offer a good example of the extraordinarily positive impact these measures have," Kandola said. "For our first case, which arrived back in the NWT before our isolation and travel protocols were in-place, there were 70 contacts which needed to be investigated. For each case after these protocols were in place, there were extremely limited contacts – and thus very little risk of spurring community transmission."

"Making sure we isolate these higher-risk individuals is what is allowing us to revitalize our communities, and reintroduce the activities we’ve been missing gradually, and safely. This is the approach which will allow our residents as much freedom for the longest period possible as we navigate additional surges in infection across Canada – which most experts have deemed an inevitability."

RELATED REPORTING: More Covid challenges ahead, Cochrane tells MLAs as Legislative Assembly returns

Kandola further warned Northerners about adopting a premature sense of comfort and security just because the virus has been contained for the time being.

"There is still risk – Canada is still seeing almost 1,000 new cases per day, and we are still having roughly 300 to 400 arrivals in the territory every week. Without isolation protocols, these arrivals could be circulating around our communities, and could transmit Covid-19 – even if they don’t have symptoms. That’s not a risk we are willing to leave unmitigated.

"The other reality is that that this is a time to prepare, and hone our ability to rise to the continuing challenge Covid-19 will present to our territory. That means making our systems better, not dismantling them."

Kandola added that loosening restrictions on border controls would be possible when a vaccine or an effective treatment for Covid is available.