N.W.T. to lift most COVID-19 restrictions March 1, all restrictions by April

Nearly all COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted March 1 as the N.W.T. health minister says the territory has passed the Omicron peak.

Travel, gathering restrictions for businesses and vaccine mandates being lifted next week

Premier Caroline Cochrane, Health Minister Julie Green, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola and the territory's medical director, Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, gave an update on COVID-19 at 4 p.m. Friday. (CBC)

All gathering restrictions, vaccine mandates for businesses and self-isolation requirements for travellers will end in the N.W.T. as of March 1. 

"We'll go back to the world we were in in February 2020," said N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola. 

Kandola said the restrictions were being lifted due to data that has been studied in the N.W.T. and elsewhere.

She said the risk of severe outcomes with the Omicron variant is lower than previous strains with data showing the risk of Omicron hospitalization to be about 40 per cent less than the Delta variant.

Premier Caroline Cochrane announced that most public health orders would become recommendations and all further restrictions — including the public health emergency — would lift on April 1, barring anything unexpected. 

Mandatory masks in indoor settings will remain until April 1.

Kandola said she would be discussing rules around masking in schools with the department of Education, Culture and Employment. There were no details as to whether this would remain in place past April. 

She said the territorial government would begin winding down the COVID-19 Secretariat, which was created in 2020 to respond to the pandemic. 

The plan going forward will be to respond to outbreaks and protect the vulnerable, Cochrane said. 

Julie Green, territorial health minister, said the changes come from science-based decisions by the chief public health officer. 

She said the N.W.T. has passed the Omicron peak. 

The restrictions

Dr. Kandola said as of March 1, there will be no limits on the number of people who can gather indoors or outdoors. 

Proof of vaccine requirements will also be removed from private businesses. 

Last fall, the territorial government put an order in place so businesses that implemented a proof of vaccine policy could operate at a higher capacity than the restrictions allowed. With no gathering restrictions, there is no longer a need for the policy. 

As of March 1, no one will be required to self-isolate upon entering the N.W.T. but they will still have to fill out self-isolation plans before entering.

The territorial government had already announced plans for travel restrictions to be lifted March 1. 

Green said there would still be testing, which would be used for international travellers and people going to small communities. 

People who catch COVID-19 will still need to isolate along with their housemates. 

The N.W.T. reported 519 active cases of COVID-19 as of Friday morning, alongside 19 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began.