N.W.T. government bans indoor gatherings, gives strict new orders on physical distancing

The government of the Northwest Territories is giving new orders around gatherings, business closures, and physical distancing as the territory heads into a long weekend.

Gatherings banned, self-isolation orders for mining workers laid out

Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer for the N.W.T., is officially banning all indoor gatherings across the territory, effective tomorrow. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

The government of the Northwest Territories is giving new orders around gatherings, business closures, and physical distancing as the territory heads into a long weekend.

The chief public health officer is officially banning all indoor gatherings effective Saturday.

In a Friday release, the government defined these gatherings as when "any amount of people get together in the same indoor space" when they don't live together.

'Measures will get stronger before they let up'

Health Minister Diane Thom spoke at a press conference on Friday, saying "the public health measures will get stronger before they let up," adding that the territory has moved forward with some of the "most aggressive policies in the country."

She said there is now legal weight behind these measures, and they will be enforced by the territory's new compliance "task force."

On Wednesday, the task force was created, and Conrad Baetz was hired as the deputy chief public health officer to help enforce COVID-19 orders.

Dr. Kami Kandola said Baetz will lead nearly 30 people — known as public health officers — appointed from different departments within the territorial government to help make sure people are complying with orders, including these newest ones.

Here are the gathering guidelines:

  • No visitors inside any home.
  • Limited time spent inside the living space of someone you are caring for.
  • Parties must be cancelled.
  • Funerals are not allowed, though burials with immediate family are allowed.
  • If you're on the land, you must only go with people you live with. Also, your tent must follow the same rules as a house, no visitors. 

As for gatherings outside, these are allowed for up to ten people if they follow physical distancing protocol — at least two metres — the entire time.

The same rules apply to going on walks with friends, you may go but you must keep two metres apart. You must also maintain these distancing guidelines while out in public.

Organizations, municipal governments, NGOs, and professional associations are being asked to cancel events that are "coming up soon."

Dr. Kandola is also making formal orders for certain businesses to close, "because they are unable or unlikely to maintain proper social (physical) distancing."

These businesses are broken down into three categories: Red = must close, Yellow = if you can maintain distance and aren't high-risk, you can remain open and Green = must stay open "to protect public health."

Red businesses include:

  • Tour operators, bottle depots, gyms and fitness centres, museums and art galleries, bars and nightclubs, theatres, movie theatres, dine-in areas in restaurants, and personal service establishments where physical distancing "is not possible" like hair salons, spas and barbershops.

Yellow businesses include:

  • Takeout, drive-through, and delivery restaurants, corner stores, and large retail stores.

Green businesses include:

  • Grocery stores, gas bars, banks, pharmacies and liquor stores.

New orders for mining, oil and gas companies

Every mining worker is now to follow 14 days of physical distancing before returning to the work site and they must also report any symptoms.

"This includes all southern transient workers and local employees. They will be screened and temperature checked before they return to site," the release states.

"Employees must also self-monitor closely and immediately report any sign of symptoms."

The release states these measures will mitigate workers' risk of getting COVID-19, and ensure anyone with signs of symptoms "is screened out before travelling to the work site."

The government says mining and oil and gas companies have worked closely with public health officials to implement many of these measures already.

But still, Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Katrina Nokleby said it is time to ramp up government action.

"The situation is evolving quickly across Canada, which is why these additional measures are needed," she said.

Dr. Kandola said she is establishing additional measures "to protect N.W.T. residents from the risks of having a southern transient workforce entering the territory."

Employers at these companies are now expected to "establish and ensure compliance with [physical] distancing protocols for all employees at the work site when they are not working or eating meals."

There are other protocols companies must follow now as well — they must complete workplace risk assessment before they travel to the work site, they must end buffet-style catering, and they must disinfect common areas.

Companies are also ordered to use the absolute minimum amount of workers to continue operations, though the release states that this order excludes the Giant Mine Remediation project in Yellowknife.

"If this site is not staffed appropriately, the territory risks significant environmental damage," the release states.

N.W.T. Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Katrina Nokleby said it is time to ramp up government action with these new orders. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Case-by-case enforcement

Dr. Kandola said the limitations are necessary to contain the spread of the pandemic, and enforcement will be on a case-by-case basis.

"I do recognize this is going to be a huge adjustment. It is not lost on me that this will impact mental health," she said.

"We're looking at level of risk from low to high. It depends on the risk to the public."

The levels that are low risk will be met with education and warning, higher risk will be enforced with stronger measures, said Dr. Kandola. 

Individuals who break public health orders can face a $10,000 fine and six months imprisonment, but Dr. Kandola said that for these public gatherings there will be a "gradient of regulation."

The details of what this gradient looks like exactly were unclear on Friday, but Dr. Kandola said she could provide more of the "legal language on that later."

As of Thursday afternoon, no fines had been laid for violating public health orders.

There are people who are not going to follow protocols and procedures, Nokleby admitted Friday. She said if you see those people breaking the order, you should call them out.

"I am a firm believer in public shaming and I think we need to start getting to that point where if people are not following the orders you tell them."


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