N.W.T. tightens gathering restrictions to limit spread of Omicron variant

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, N.W.T. households are limited to a maximum of five guests and high risk indoor activities, such as singing, hockey and swimming, are suspended, according to N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola.

Households limited to 5 guests, 'high risk' indoor activities suspended, as of 5 p.m. Tuesday

Premier Caroline Cochrane, Health Minister Julie Green, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola and the territory's medical director, Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, will give a COVID-19 update at 11 a.m. (CBC)

The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer is tightening gathering restrictions in an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron variant in the territory.

During a news conference Tuesday, Dr. Kami Kandola said there have been approximately 200 new cases across the territory since New Year's Eve, adding that for the first time since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 is now present in every region of the territory.

Beginning Tuesday at 5 p.m. Kandola said households will be limited to 10 people indoors at one time with a maximum of five non-household members, regardless of vaccination status.

High risk indoor activities — including all indoor winter sports, contacts sports, swimming, high intensity fitness classes, traditional hand games, dancing, singing and playing wind and brass instruments — are suspended and no applications to resume those activities will be considered.

Establishments that serve alcohol will be limited to having six people per table and there can no longer be any mingling between tables.

Kandola said the changes are scheduled to be lifted at the end of the day on Jan. 21.

Omicron variant dominant strain in N.W.T.

Kandola said the Omicron variant is the dominant strain in the N.W.T. 

She also said that more than 6,700 people were scheduled to arrive in the N.W.T. between Dec. 22 and Jan. 9, according to data from ProtectNWT.

"This has proven to be an increased risk in the Northwest Territories. Additional caution needs to be taken for the next few weeks," she added.

She repeated the advice for travellers to avoid contact with others during their first 72 hours in the territory, regardless of vaccination status, though this remains a recommendation rather than a public health order. 

Kandola said some of the 200 new cases across the territory have been linked to super-spreader events, including household parties.

Territory expands at-home testing

The territory rolled out at-home tests for people who are eligible, to help alleviate the surge in demand that started over the holidays, said Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, the territory's medical director.

She said the roll-out began in Yellowknife and will also take place in Beaufort Delta communities, Lutselk'e and Dettah this week, "with other communities to follow."

She said people who are eligible for the rapid tests are mildly symptomatic or have no symptoms, and have no risk factors.

Pegg said the territory needs to preserve laboratory-based testing for those most at risk.

Missed the news conference? Watch it here.

No rapid test kits at Yellowknife airport

Premier Cochrane said "some travellers" who arrived at the Yellowknife airport between Dec. 30 and Jan. 3 didn't get rapid COVID-19 test kits they were expecting. 

Health Minister Julie Green said supply was the issue but did not elaborate why there weren't rapid tests available.

Cochrane said travellers who arrived during that time can go to the airport with their boarding pass and identification to receive a rapid antigen test Tuesday between 1 and 5 p.m. and Wednesday between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

New case numbers expected today

Health officials have not released specific COVID-19 case numbers since Dec. 31. They are expected to do so Tuesday afternoon.

On Dec. 31, health officials reported 160 active COVID-19 cases in the territory, compared to 26 on Dec. 23.

Of those active cases, there were 132 in Yellowknife, four in the Beaufort Delta region, three in the Dehcho region, eight in Fort Smith, One in Hay River, two in the Sahtu region and 10 in the Tłı̨chǫ region. 

On Dec. 30, N.W.T. officials postponed the return to school to Jan. 10, and have said that people who are less likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19 need to report to ProtectNWT if they have tested positive for COVID-19 with a rapid antigen test. They are also no longer required to have the test result confirmed with a lab test.