Yukon left out of northern COVID-19 bubble for freeing up border to B.C.
Northern premiers had considered freeing up travel between all 3 territories
The three northern territories were in talks to open their borders to one another as part of the next phase of easing COVID-19 restrictions, but that plan was dropped when Yukon decided to open its border to British Columbia, according to N.W.T. officials.
"Until very recently we were prepared in Phase 2 to open up the borders with Yukon and Nunavut," said Health Minister Diane Thom in the legislature on Thursday. "Once Yukon decided to open up its borders to unrestricted travel from B.C., with all of their active cases, we were no longer able to consider that."
Thom was responding to questions about travel from the Inuvik region to Yukon along the Dempster Highway. Many people in the region have family ties to people in Yukon.
Currently people returning home to the Northwest Territories from any other jurisdiction must self-isolate for 14 days.
The B.C. government reported nine new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, but the disease and the coronavirus that causes it is in rapid decline there and in other provinces.
Premier Caroline Cochrane said that during their weekly meetings, the three northern premiers discussed waiving that isolation period for people travelling between the three territories.
"Since we had that first discussion there was a new revelation," said Cochrane. "The Yukon government announced it was having a deal with the B.C. government, which put a different spin on it."
Cochrane indicated the move by Yukon caught people in the N.W.T. off guard. She said officials were trying to arrange an emergency meeting last night between her and her two northern counterparts.
Nunavut has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19. The N.W.T. has had five. All have recovered and there have been no new cases for a month.
Better enforcement still needed: MLA
Thom was later asked about enforcement of self-isolation requirements and other orders put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Hay River MLA Rocky Simpson said he has received many reports of travellers and workers from outside the N.W.T. ignoring the orders.
"I have been informed, time and time again, that we continue to have drug dealers and others snubbing the orders while we put people up in hotels at this government's expense," said Simpson.
Thom said her Health department is trying to increase the number of staff fielding emails to Protect NWT and the 811 COVID-19 hotline for information, complaints and self-isolation plans.
Thom said the small initial staff was composed of workers from the territorial government who had been redeployed from other jobs. With them preparing to return to their old positions, the department is now looking for replacements and additional staff to handle the large volume of calls and emails.
Thom said the Protect NWT and 811 line have received a total of 21,000 calls and emails and approved 5,300 self-isolation plans since the chief public health officer issued the first COVID-19 public health orders March 21.
In the last week, Thom said there have been 52 cases opened as a result of reports of violations of self-isolation or travel restrictions and another 10 related to public gatherings.