Highways into N.W.T. from Alberta, B.C. and Yukon closed to visitors, transport officers monitoring

Transport officers are checking in with drivers coming in and out of the Northwest Territories as early as Saturday afternoon, after the chief public health officer said the border was going to be closed in response to COVID-19.

The Northwest Territories is closing its border in response to COVID-19 as of noon, says government

A transport officer conducts a roadside check just outside of Enterprise, N.W.T., on Highway 1. The N.W.T announced Friday that the borders would be closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

In Enterprise, about an hour north of the N.W.T.-Alberta border, an officer was stopping all cars Saturday afternoon and telling them the same thing — that Highway 1 will be closed.

CBC drove down to the community earlier Saturday, and a reporter noted a highway transport officer asking every person at the road stop where they are coming from, if they are residents of the Northwest Territories, and taking down their licence plate number. They also reminded drivers that they need to self-isolate for at least 14 days upon arrival to the N.W.T.

Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola said in a press release late Friday night that the territory's border would be closed as of Saturday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ivan Russell, a spokesperson for the territory's Municipal Affairs Department, said the government started mobilizing its border response teams last night. The N.W.T reported its first case of COVID-19 in the Yellowknife region Saturday afternoon. 

The decision to close the border came before the first case was confirmed, Kandola said at a press conference Saturday afternoon. 

A government spokesperson for the COVID-19 response team told CBC that the travel ban came into effect as of noon Saturday.

Highway 1 is the main connecting road from northern Alberta into the Northwest Territories. Enterprise, N.W.T., is the first community along that road. There are 110 people living in Enterprise, according to the territory's 2019 population estimates. 

A transport officer asks drivers where they are from, if they are residents of the N.W.T and reminds them to go into self-isolation for the next 14 days. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Kandola said that the border restrictions apply to land, port or air. She said people coming in at any of these points of entry will have to do a self-isolation plan, which will include personal details like address, so that the government can monitor their isolation. 

"People [need to] self-isolate from wherever they're coming from, as long as they're coming from outside the N.W.T," Kandola said on Saturday. "There's more teeth put into this self-isolation order. It is a directive — not a recommendation." 

Spokesperson Russell said signage will be posted at all the entry points to the N.W.T to minimize the number of drivers making their way from High Level, Alta., to Enterprise, N.W.T., where they would be asked to turn around. 

The transport officer at Enterprise told the CBC reporter earlier Saturday that officials have been deployed to the borders to other communities like Fort Smith, Fort Liard and Fort McPherson.

William Koe, the mayor of Fort McPherson, said he is unaware of any officers or checkpoints being placed outside his community.

Fort McPherson, population 635, is the closest N.W.T. municipality to the Yukon border. The two territories are connected by the Dempster Highway, Highway 8 in the N.W.T.

Koe told CBC his community declared a state of emergency at 11 a.m. Saturday — almost an hour before the N.W.T.'s first COVID-19 case was confirmed. 

"It's really important that we close the borders to anybody else that's trying to come in," Koe said. 

Fort Liard First Nation orders 'immediate' return

The Acho Dene Koe First Nation near Fort Liard, N.W.T. confirmed in a statement that Highway 7, which connects Fort Liard to northern B.C. and the Alaska Highway, are part of the government's closures. The First Nation instructed its members to "return immediately" to Fort Liard until the border measures are lifted. 

Fort Liard, population 542, is located just 37 kilometres north of the B.C. border. Residents often travel to nearby Fort Nelson, B.C., because it is the closest medical centre. 

Under the territory's new order, travellers coming in to the Northwest Territories will be asked to self-isolate in four major centres: Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith or Inuvik. The closest for people in Fort Liard is Hay River — more than 10 hours away by car. 

In a Facebook post, Fort Liard Mayor Hillary Deneron said she is working on changing these requirements for Fort Liard residents because the drive "is not affordable" for some. 

Parks Canada released a notice earlier today closing the winter road between Fort Chipewyan, Alta. and Fort Smith, N.W.T., in response of the territorial government's border closures order. The winter road normally closes by the end of March.