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Phase 2 of N.W.T.'s reopening plan in effect, Nunavut travel bubble created

The government of the Northwest Territories says Phase 2 of its COVID-19 Emerging Wisely plan will start Friday.

On Thursday, the Northwest Territories government said Phase 2 will start Friday

Reid Lake Territorial Park near Yellowknife. The second phase of the N.W.T.'s reopening plan takes effect Friday. (NWT Parks)

The Northwest Territories government says Phase 2 of its COVID-19 Emerging Wisely plan is now in effect as of Friday afternoon.

The second phase of the plan includes larger outdoor gatherings, easing of campground restrictions, more businesses opening up with precautions in place, the reopening of places of worship, and offices will be allowed to have 25 people working per floor.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola recommended the territory move into the second phase as community spread remains non-existent, and the territory has no active cases. 

Phase 1 began on May 15, when Premier Caroline Cochrane announced the start of the Emerging Wisely plan — a three-phase strategy toward the day when all COVID-19 pandemic measures would finally be lifted. According to the plan, a vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19 would have to be discovered and made widely available, or a treatment discovered and made widely available, before all measures could be lifted.

According to the Emerging Wisely plan, Phase 2 will allow outdoor gatherings of 50 people or fewer, but with many restrictions in place such as physical distancing, hand washing, and no communal foods or drinks. Dr. Kami Kandola also recommends keeping to a limited friendship circle for indoor get-togethers. 

Some indoor sports and day programming could resume, except for gymnastics. Theatres could reopen and fitness classes could resume at fitness centres — but all could operate only under reduced capacity.

We can get through this together, but only if we stay apart.- Dr. Kami Kandola, N.W.T. chief public health officer

According to the territory, dine-in restaurants and "lounges" are now allowed to open, with rules in place including the prohibition of dance floors and live music, along with a limit of 25 people inside plus staff (unless they apply for an exemption) and the completion of a WSCC risk assessment.  

Churches, community and youth centres, as well as government offices, could all reopen with limits on capacity.

Phase 2 also brings with it overnight camping at territorial campgrounds, which the territory started taking bookings for on Wednesday.

During a press conference on Friday, Kandola warned if the territory doesn't keep on its toes and follow physical distance protocols, it could be in for a "nasty surprise" with a second wave of infections this fall in Canada.

"A second wave of COVID[-19] will threaten our territory and could overwhelm our health system in small communities," said Kandola.

"We can get through this together, but only if we stay apart."

Travel restrictions updated, Nunavut bubble created

The government is also announcing updates and amendments to public health orders around COVID-19 travel restrictions and self-isolation protocols in effect as of Friday.

A two-territory travel bubble with Nunavut has now been created as part of the amendments.

As of Friday, residents of Nunavut will be able to visit the N.W.T. without self-isolating. The same will be true vice-versa "once Nunavut has completed the requisite changes to their public health orders," according to a Friday news release. 

This will not exempt Nunavummiut who are required to self-isolate when returning from travel outside of their territory.

People coming up to the N.W.T. to work, including just for the short-term, will be allowed to travel and proceed to communities within the territory once they have submitted their self-isolation plan and it has been approved. 

The changes also clarify that out-of-territory students enrolled in a post-secondary institution in the N.W.T. need to complete a resident self-isolation plan and self-isolate for their first two weeks after arriving.

Missed the press conference? Watch it here:

The order also allows the chief public health officer to grant exceptional circumstance approvals to non-resident family members to visit for family reunification and to others for compassionate reasons, such as attending a funeral.

The territory said on Friday that future amendments will be made to the travel order to allow exemptions for residents who are employed as supply chain workers, flight crews, and airline employees. These workers will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are taking the right precautions.

The press conference Friday comes after the government caused confusion over its travel restrictions, when the premier suddenly welcomed southern Canadians to tour the territory during a live interview with CBC News Network Monday.

The N.W.T. government sent a press release days after, admitting it may infringed on Charter freedoms and mobility rights with its travel bans starting in March.

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