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After meeting with doctors, N.W.T. not easing physical distancing rules yet

The N.W.T. government says there have been no changes to its public health measures, after a meeting Friday with the territory's medical association, which had called for the end of physical distancing measures.

NWT Medical Association called for end to physical distancing measures, citing harm

A file photo of Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife. An N.W.T. government spokesperson said based on the information available to the government, physical distancing is a 'best practice' for N.W.T. residents, and rules have not been changed. (Katherine Barton/CBC)

The N.W.T. government says there have been no changes to its public health measures, after a meeting Friday with the territory's medical association, which had called for the end of physical distancing measures.

That meeting came after a letter from the association, representing 84 doctors in the territory, which argued the territory should end physical distancing measures because they're causing harm, including increased substance abuse and domestic violence, as well as financial stress.

CBC News requested to interview Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola on Friday to speak about the meeting, but she was not immediately available. But in an email to CBC on Monday, government spokesperson Mike Westwick confirmed that the Northwest Territories Medical Association met with officials from the Health Department and the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.

Westwick said despite the meeting, the territory's reopening plans will go as planned.

Phase 2 continues as-is.- Mike Westwick, N.W.T. government spokesperson

"While we will always review our public health measures for their continued necessity, residents should understand that at this time, there have been no changes to our public health measures," said Westwick in the email. "Phase 2 continues as-is."

He continued to state that there were many areas of agreement during the meeting — including students returning to school in the fall and the need to continue travel restrictions.

"There were some areas of disagreement — as is natural in these kinds of complex, rapidly-evolving issues," wrote Westwick. "Policy should never be made in a bubble. And we see this as part of an important, ongoing dialogue with practitioners across the territory."

Westwick said the dialogue will continue, but that the government believes a "gradual, measured approach to reopening is the right way to move forward."

He said based on the information available to the government, physical distancing is a "best practice" that N.W.T. residents should be following to protect one another  — "much like wearing a seatbelt while in a moving vehicle."

Doctor left meeting feeling positive

After the Friday meeting, the president of the Northwest Territories Medical Association Dr. Andrew Kotaska said he was feeling very positive.

Kotaska had said there was agreement that optimizing the health of people in the N.W.T. is a priority. But he added that this needs to include "mental, spiritual, cultural, physical health as well as ... straightforward damage from the COVID-[19] virus."

He said on Saturday that he was looking forward to having another meeting and continuing the dialogue.

The N.W.T. is currently in Phase 2 of its Emerging Wisely reopening plan — a three-phase strategy toward the day when all COVID-19 pandemic measures would finally be lifted. 

The third phase of the plan allows for get-togethers with no capacity limitations, the reopening of more businesses, and outdoor festivals with limitations. The requirements to enter Phase 3 are strict: a robust, rapid-testing strategy must be ready, and the second wave of infections must have come and gone in Canada and the United States.

With files from Danielle d'Entremont

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