N.W.T. on track for Phase 2 of COVID-19 reopening plan, top doctor says
By June 12, restaurants, fitness centres and movie theatres could reopen
The Northwest Territories could enact Phase 2 of its reopening plan as early as next Friday.
Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, told reporters Wednesday that the territory continues to be in "good shape" to further loosen restrictions by June 12 — but is reminding residents to stay vigilant.
"While our restrictions might be relaxing further, out there, vigilance cannot," Kandola said during the territory's weekly press briefing. "In fact, we need to redouble our commitment to keeping each other safe."
Phase 2 of the territory's "Emerging Wisely" plan allows, among other things, outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people and indoor day programs with up to 25 people as long as people stay two metres apart.
The plan will also see restaurants, fitness centres and movie theatres reopen with some restrictions.
Kandola said officials have made a few changes to the plan after fielding many calls and emails from organizations that want to reopen, but did not elaborate.
The territory previously said it would be entering Phase 2 by mid-to-late June.
Preparation underway for possible 2nd wave
Dr. Sarah Cook, territorial medical director of health with the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, said planning is already underway for a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus.
As soon as a case is detected, no matter what community it's in, it's really important that we rapidly do contract tracing.- Dr. Sarah Cook, N.W.T.'s medical director
Epidemiologists have previously told CBC News that the second wave could start as early as September.
The territory is looking at possible scenarios, including how to move its staff or some patients out of smaller communities to receive appropriate care and to self-isolate safely, Cook said. Air ambulance services, Cook continued, are being considered in their plans.
"As soon as a case is detected, no matter what community it's in, it's really important that we rapidly do contract tracing to be able to identify anyone that's been in contact with that positive case to make sure that they're very rapidly put into self-isolation," Cook said.
Cook said finding places for those to self-isolate in small communities is "still a challenge" for their response plan.
Border enforcement, self-isolation plans still in play
Border enforcement and mandatory self-isolation plans for those coming back into the territory will remain in place during Phase 2.
These travel restrictions are the single most important public health measure that we have.- Dr. Kami Kandola, N.W.T's chief public health officer
Kandola said those precautions are some of the most important ones the territory has, and that they will only be repealed once there is no more evidence of any community spread of COVID-19 across the country.
"These travel restrictions are the single most important public health measure that we have, that is allowing us to open up in Phase 1 and Phase 2," Kandola said. "Our highest risk is introduction through travel."
The territory disclosed in their weekly statistical update that they've received over 1,000 enforcement-related calls since the start of the pandemic, with 125 of them concluding in a verbal or written warning.
No new warnings have been issued by the territory since the week of May 20.
Territory looking into travel bubble with Nunavut
For those wondering what to do with their summer plans, the territory could have a new travel bubble put in place between the N.W.T. and Nunavut.
Kandola said more information could be coming through an amendment to the N.W.T.'s mandatory travel restrictions.
Travellers who decide to fly this summer will not be allowed to board a flight if they are not wearing their own non-medical face mask that adequately covers their mouth and nose.
The territory announced this change Wednesday to coincide with federal travel regulations.
Kandola said she supports staycations in the N.W.T.'s regional centres, but reminded residents to ask small communities before planning a trip to find out whether they are open to non-essential travel during the pandemic.
The territory also announced Wednesday that tourism operators do not have to pay their insurance requirements or licensing fees until 2021, as a way of providing short-term relief during the pandemic.
Operators are still required to have valid insurance to make sure their businesses are still in good standing with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment.