What you need to know about travelling into the N.W.T. during border closures

Here's a breakdown of the most important things you need to know if you’re travelling to, and within, the N.W.T. during territorial border restrictions.

The territory shut down its borders to non-residents on Saturday, with exceptions

The territory has shut its border to non-residents, with some exceptions, amid COVID-19 concerns. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC)

The N.W.T. now has a travel ban in effect that restricts non-essential travel into the territory by land, air, and port, to non-residents, with some exceptions.

The ban came into effect at noon Saturday.

That same day, the first case in the territory was announced and the risk level of the virus spreading in the N.W.T. was labelled as high.

Here's a breakdown a few of the most important things you need to know about these changes if you're travelling to the N.W.T.

Who is allowed to travel into the N.W.T. right now?

  • Residents of the territory;
  • Medical travel patients from Nunavut's Kitikmeot region;
  • People who work in certain industries — including import/export workers, workers that support the supply chain industry, flight crews, and those who provide essential services, including health professionals and law enforcement;
  • Workers involved in the construction of territorial government capital infrastructure projects;
  • Southern resident transient workers in the mineral and petroleum resources industry;
  • People who cross the N.W.T. border while participating in traditional harvesting or on the land activities, and who do not enter any communities.

What happens once I arrive?

If you have arrived in the N.W.T. in the last 14 days, the government says you need to submit a self-isolation plan.

People are told to remain in one residence until the self-isolation plan has been verified by the office of the chief public health officer.

Residents are being told to isolate in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River or Fort Smith. The government says this will help avoid overcrowding health centres in small communities. 

People who have already returned to their communities are allowed to self-isolate in their homes.

As of Tuesday evening, there are no travel limits from the territorial government on travel between communities.

Last week, the K'atl'odeeche First Nation, near Hay River, N.W.T, declared a state of emergency that includes a lock down to keep out non-residents, with some exceptions. Anyone entering the First Nation will have to show a security guard proof of band membership.

How will this be enforced?

Completing and submitting the self-isolation plan is mandatory and can be enforced by peace officers. People who break the new order can face a $10,000 fine and six months imprisonment.

Ivan Russell, a spokesperson for the territory's Municipal Affairs Department, said the government has a plan in place to enforce the order with point of entry controls at key highways and airports.

"People are mobilizing to set up highway control points to provide engagement with the public, pass on the correct information," he said on Saturday.

He also said areas are being cordoned off in the airport to provide information to people arriving. 

What are the rules for returning mining workers?

Among those with an exemption under the order are transient workers in the mineral and petroleum resource industries, essential workers in health care, and airline workers.

As of Tuesday, the Diavik diamond mine and the Gahcho Kué diamond mine remain in operation, although with reduced staffing. Kandola said her department had been working with mine operators to have systems in place for testing and isolation.

"When they are not performing their essential service, they will be required to self-isolate," Kandola said in a press conference on Saturday.

Kandola also said these workers will be required to stay at a social distance.

"These workers are expected to follow strict social distancing guidelines for their entire time in the territory. Social distancing is [at least] two metres between people. And if they are staying overnight, they are expected to self isolate immediately after their shifts."

What does mandatory self-isolation mean?

  • Stay home;
  • Avoid situations where you could infect others, like social gatherings, grocery stores, and gyms;
  • Avoid having visitors;
  • Keep your distance from others, approximately 2 metres apart;
  • Cover coughs and sneezes;
  • Wash your hands;
  • Clean and disinfect your home.

More information on what self-isolation looks like can be found here

A sign up at the Yellowknife airport on Sunday, instructing incoming travellers to self-isolate. (Jay Legere/CBC)

Can I go outside while under mandatory self-isolation?

The territorial government says you may go outdoors for fresh air when by yourself. But they advise you not to use public transportation, taxis, or share a car.

If you must run an urgent errand by yourself (i.e. picking up a medication) you can wear a surgical mask to reduce the risk of spreading infection.

Public health officials can be reached by phone at 1-833-378-8297 or by email, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. MT, every day of the week.