North

N.W.T. premier says plan to return to 'normal life' coming soon

Premier Caroline Cochrane told N.W.T. residents that the government is preparing to return to "something resembling a normal life soon," at a press conference Tuesday morning.

'We're laying a path to a return to something resembling a normal life soon,' said Caroline Cochrane

Premier Caroline Cochrane held a press conference at 11 a.m. MT Tuesday. Cochrane said it would be 'irresponsible' to open up the territory too early, but said the territory's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola is expected to announce a plan by the end of this week. (Walter Strong/ CBC)

Premier Caroline Cochrane told N.W.T. residents that the government is preparing to return to "something resembling a normal life soon," at a press conference Tuesday morning.

Cochrane said it would be "irresponsible" to open up the territory too early, but said the territory's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola is expected to announce a plan by the end of this week.

It's a plan that will be coming in phases, she said, and not all at once.

"It will be a phased in approach. It will not be 'all is normal,'" said Cochrane.

Slow reopening of businesses

Cochrane said exact details of the plan are under the authority of the chief public health officer. But she added that some non-essential businesses such as hair salons could be some of the first to reopen, so long as employees have proper personal protective equipment.

"We're laying a path to a return to something resembling a normal life soon," said Cochrane.

In late March, the territory ordered all non-essential businesses closed. 

Cochrane said this plan will unfold over a long period of time.

"This will be a long-term action plan, COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while," said Cochrane.

Despite this being a long-term plan, Cochrane said the territorial government also has short-term goals for economic relief.

So far, the territorial government has offered businesses an aid package worth $21.5 million, mostly in waived fees, deferred payments and low-interest loans. But Cochrane said more lobbying needs to be done by the territorial government to get additional federal support.

"We've been kind of piecemeal lobbying the [federal] government and that's not appropriate," she said.

Hay River evacuees accommodated, says premier

On Monday night hundreds of residents of Vale Island and West Channel in Hay River, N.W.T., were evacuated due to a flood risk. 

When asked about health measures for evacuees, Cochrane said units in town had already been identified to house people who needed them.

A flood danger evacuation order was issued Monday evening for Vale Island and West Channel, Hay River. Residents have been told to report to the Hay River community centre. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

"There was a small gap and if necessary, then we had backup resources in Yellowknife to be able to accommodate them as well," said Cochrane. 

"My understanding is that it's fine at this point and that we're watching it and … the municipality of Hay River has done a phenomenal job in actually supporting the residents."

No plans for new isolation centres

The territory currently requires people who travel outside of the territory to isolate in one of four "designated isolation centres": Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith or Inuvik. Cochrane said there are no plans to create other isolation centres, even though some people have expressed the wish to isolate with family in smaller communities. 

"The reality is, is the reason that we have those four isolation centres in the regional centres is because we're trying to stop the possibility of community spread in the smaller centres," said Cochrane, adding smaller communities don't have the health resources to handle a potential outbreak. 

As of May 7, Nunavut will begin charging people who leave the territory on non-essential trips for the costs of staying in isolation centres.This isn't the practice in N.W.T., but Cochrane said she hasn't ruled it out.

Missed the press conference? Watch it here:

0 active cases for more than 2 weeks

The territory has had zero active cases of COVID-19 for more than two weeks, when the last of its five confirmed cases was marked as recovered by the territorial government.

The N.W.T. has been under a declared public health emergency related to the pandemic since March 18, and a state of emergency since March 24.

Last week, N.W.T. health officials said they are hoping to release a plan at the end of this week for a phased lifting of restrictions. Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola said it will be at least two to three weeks before any restrictions are actually lifted.

with files from Danielle d'Entremont

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