Tightened N.W.T. border restrictions expected to be last of the COVID-19 orders, say officials

The Northwest Territories has added what could be its last COVID-19 restrictions, with its new measures introduced Monday that are designed to further tighten the border.

With no evidence of community spread of COVID-19, health officials turn to closing border loopholes

Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public health officer of the N.W.T., in a file photo. She says new amendments to border restrictions are expected to be the last health orders before officials begin re-opening parts of the territory closed due to COVID-19. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

The Northwest Territories has added what could be its last COVID-19 restriction, with its new measures designed to further tighten the border.

On Monday, the territorial government announced that residents returning to the territory and essential workers with exemptions under the COVID-19 travel ban face new rules governing self-isolation protocols and check-ins with health officials. 

All five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories have recovered and with no evidence of community spread, the greatest threat is the respiratory illness entering from southern Canada, explained Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer. 

"These changes will actually set the stage for a way forward for looser restrictions," Kandola said at a media briefing Tuesday. 

"I look at the rest of the country and see curves which have not yet peaked. Ideally we'd close our boundaries to anyone but residents and those essential to our territory, but that isn't possible." 

Watch the full briefing with Kandola, Premier Caroline Cochrane and Health Minister Diane Thom here:

Although the Northwest Territories has effectively closed its border to all non-essential travel since late March, exemptions have been in place for mine workers, medical professionals, airline workers and others who regularly enter or pass through the territory for their work or for medical reasons.

Meanwhile, nearly all but the most essential forms of gathering have been banned, forcing businesses to shut their doors and cancel nearly all events planned for the near future. 

These changes will actually set the stage for a way forward for looser restrictions.- Dr. Kami Kandola, N.W.T. chief public health officer 

Kandola has said throughout the COVID-19 crisis that these steps are designed to effectively seal the border and keep the novel coronavirus from gaining a foothold in the territory and its small communities. 

If there's sufficient evidence that this is happening and increased community testing shows there is still no community spread, then Kandola has promised to ease restrictions for residents. 

"Then we can actually move forward and start relaxing some of these restrictions internally," she said. 

Since late March, the Northwest Territories has closed its border to non-essential travel, with checkstops, like this one shown in Enterprise, N.W.T. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

In order for this scenario to work, the border restrictions and the public health emergency would remain in place until there is a vaccine available, Kandola said. Though medical professionals are racing to come up with an effective vaccine, it won't be available for some time, likely until next year.

Kandola has laid out her broad thinking for reopening the territory already, saying most restrictions would likely remain in place until at least the end of May. Officials are working on a detailed plan with specific information on the way forward, and that information is expected to be released "soon," Kandola said. 

Other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have released similar plans over the past week. 

Preparing for possible second wave 

Also on Tuesday, Kandola spoke about the potential for a second wave of COVID-19, which is expected to happen alongside the cold and flu season later this fall across the globe. 

As long as the continued border restrictions keep the coronavirus out and it remains contained, the risk from that second wave is limited, Kandola said. 

"We have to be prepared for a second or third wave, but if we are able to maintain tight control, we can stay in containment mode," she said. 

"If we continue to have that strong approach, which literally got us through March and April, that approach [will mitigate] the second and third wave in the N.W.T.," she said. 

With files from Alex Brockman


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