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7 things you need to know about Yukon's plan to reopen the territory

The first thing you should know? There are a lot of unknowns.

Few specifics means more uncertainty about getting back to business

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer of health, announced the territory's plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions Friday. (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer, got poetic on Friday while announcing his plan for gradually reopening the territory's economy while preventing the "sly and fickle spread of COVID-19."

"It's another historic day for Yukon, as this tumultuous journey we're on takes another turn — a turn towards life," he said.

"Like any path, we are on our very first steps. There is still a long way to go."

But even if the number of steps may be clear in the territory's reopening plan, the length of the journey is far from certain.

Here are seven things you should know about Yukon's "Path Forward" plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

The plan provides few details about how or when a number of categories of business, including cinemas, could open. (Steve Hossack/CBC)

1. There are still a lot of unknowns

The plan doesn't lay out exact timelines, detailed requirements, or even specific phases for most of the current restrictions to be lifted.

The document's flowcharts suggest hospital visitations, dental care, and access to long-term care facilities could be suspended until a vaccine is available, or could be eased immediately, "based on consultations."

Bars, theatres, cinemas, casinos, bingo halls, museums, and cultural centres can only open with the approval of a risk assessment, and the plan provides no clarity about the conditions under which those assessments will be granted.

Avoiding travel within the territory, which has been discouraged since March 22, is listed among the six essential steps that Yukoners must continue to take until a vaccine is available. But tour operators and tourist attractions remain open subject to basic public health precautions.

How long each of the plan's "phases" lasts is also undefined. The introduction to the plan suggests "a transition period of 2 to 4 weeks" must elapse after the territory meets the requirements of the next phase. But those requirements are repeated almost verbatim for each of the four phases.

2. You can start enlarging your 'household bubble'

Effective immediately, Yukoners are permitted to gather in groups of up to 10 indoors. That can include up to five visitors, but only from one other household.

That restriction will remain in place until Phase 3, even as outdoor gatherings are expanded to allow up to 50 people, with physical distancing, in Phase 2.

All restrictions on gatherings go out the window in Phase 3 — provided "there is sufficient capacity to maintain physical distancing."

Yukon businesses that were earlier ordered to close will have to submit operational plans for approval by the chief public health officer before they can reopen. (Karen McColl/CBC)

3. A lot of things could open right away — but everyone needs a plan

The plan says libraries, indoor recreation facilities, daycares and tourism operators could get back to work in Phase 1, but all of that is subject to approval.

Businesses will have to submit operational plans to health authorities detailing their COVID-19 mitigation measures, and those plans will have to be approved before they can start operating.

That's also true for religious groups and those who want to gather for funerals. The plan allows for that to happen in Phase 1, providing they meet the approval of the chief public health officer.

Other businesses, like dine-in restaurants and bars, will have to wait for a public health order demanding their closure be lifted before submitting plans of their own.

It's not clear from the plan when that might happen, though the territory recently announced "personal service establishments" — a blanket term including everything from hair salons to acupuncturists — will be allowed to open, pending approval.

Face-to-face classes in the territory's classrooms are off the table until Phase 2. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

4. Schools, the university, and summer camps wait for Phase 2

Face-to-face classes at Yukon University and in the territory's public schools will remain off the table until at least Phase 2, the plan says.

Phase 2 could begin as early as June, or be delayed until later in the summer — the plan isn't clear.

What it does say is that the territory's K-12 schools will stick to online learning until next school year.

"The Department of Education is beginning planning for gradual re-entry for students into Yukon schools for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year," an addendum to the plan reads. "These conversations and planning will be underway in May and June."

Overnight summer camps will also have to wait for Phase 2, and will have to undergo a public health assessment before they can start operating.

But taking your kids to a campground or RV park yourself will be allowed starting June 4.

Restrictions limiting travel into the territory, in place since April 17, will remain until at least Phase 3. (Submitted by Government of Yukon )

5. There is a plan for reopening the borders

Yukon's borders have been closed to non-essential travel since April 17, and they're expected to stay closed a while longer. But unlike the N.W.T., the territory does plan to reopen before a vaccine is available.

The plan says health officials will use Phase 2 to "monitor migration, [the] number of travel cases and case contacts in preparation for easing border control measures" in Phase 3.

As of May 13, the plan notes, enforcement officers have obtained more than 6,500 sworn statements from travellers at the border, including Yukon residents — and 37 people have been turned away.

6. Contact sports must wait for a vaccine

Say goodbye to the body check. Contact sports are explicitly prohibited by the plan until a vaccine is developed — which could be 12-18 months away.

Low-contact sports that allow for physical distancing, like golf and tennis, are already allowed to go ahead.

Physical distancing and frequent hand-washing are among the 6 steps that Yukoners must keep up until a vaccine is available. (Government of Yukon)

7. Memorize these 'six steps' — you'll need to do them for a while

In announcing the plan, Hanley said progress through the plan's phases depend on Yukoners keeping to "six steps for staying safe."

Those steps include common sense public health measures, like maintaining two metres physical distance from other people, washing hands frequently, staying home if you feel sick, and limiting travel to rural communities.

They also say not to gather in groups of more than 10, and to self-isolate if you come into contact with a COVID-19 patient or have recently returned to the territory.

Yukoners will have to keep taking those steps until "Phase 4" — when a vaccine is developed.

Read Yukon's 52-page recovery plan in full below.

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Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story suggested next year’s hockey season would not proceed. This story has since been clarified to specify that only contact sports would be prohibited.
    May 16, 2020 9:22 AM CT

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