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'Avoid all non-essential travel': N.W.T. government prepares emergency responses for COVID-19

The territorial government says it is working with different departments to prepare for the potential arrival of COVID-19, despite no cases being reported in the territory. The territory's chief public health officer recommended that N.W.T. residents avoid all non-essential travel outside of the territory.

No reported cases of novel coronavirus in territory to date, risk remains low

Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public health officer of the N.W.T., said earlier this week that the territory is testing residents and visitors for COVID-19 if they show flu-like symptoms. On Saturday, the government further detailed its emergency preparations. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The territorial government is giving more details on how it is working with different departments to prepare for the potential arrival of COVID-19, despite no cases being reported in the territory at this time.  

"The risk of acquiring the virus in the N.W.T. and Canada remains low," a news release sent out Saturday morning said.

On Saturday evening, the territory's chief public health officer recommended in another release that N.W.T. residents "avoid all non-essential travel outside of the Northwest Territories."

This comes after a recommendation from Global Affairs Canada that citizens across the country avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada, to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Departments preparing

The Saturday morning release said the Department of Education, Culture and Employment has met with education bodies who are prepared to put contingency plans in place if it's necessary to close schools.

On Saturday, the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation posted a release announcing different measures to combat the novel coronavirus, including closing the Lutsel K'e Dene School for two weeks following spring break. In the release, the First Nation said it wanted to "give teaching staff returning from out of the territories an opportunity to self-isolate."

As for different tourism operators in the territory, the release said the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment is working with NWT Tourism to provide them and their guests with information on COVID-19.

In terms of healthcare, the release said the government has been in an "active state of readiness for weeks" and has been preparing to deal with an anticipated influx of residents across the territory needing to access health services because of the novel coronavirus.

People packed in to Yellowknife's bulk food and supply store, Northern Food Services, to make purchases on Saturday. The territory's chief public health officer told people to stock up with enough supplies for two weeks in case of a COVID-19-related emergency. (Katie Toth/CBC)

Pandemic planning

Last week, the territory's chief public health officer told people to stock up with enough supplies for two weeks in case of a COVID-19-related emergency. In expectation of the territory's first cases, the government developed a new pandemic response plan.

On Saturday morning, long lines snaked around Northern Food Services in Yellowknife with many people filling shopping carts with supplies like toilet paper, baby supplies, and disinfectant wipes.

But some visitors to the store were not impressed with the big buys of some customers and the even bigger lines.

"I think they're just being scared there won't be anything on the shelves," said Rachael Gray, who was at the store to buy some basic supplies.

"If they stocked up at regular times they'd be OK ... things will get replaced as they're restocked. So you just wait it out."

Saturday's release mentioned the Health and Social Services website will continue to be updated regularly with new information about COVID-19 in the territory.

with files from Katie Toth

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