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Holiday travel not recommended, says N.W.T. premier, top doctor

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane said today that her children will not be coming home for the holidays because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Premier Caroline Cochrane says her children won't be returning home from the South

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane gave advice about the holidays during a COVID-19 update on Thursday. (Walter Strong/CBC)

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane said today that her children who are studying down south will not be coming home for the holidays because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

"The chief public health officer hasn't made an order on that, but the recommendation is unless it's essential travel, we're recommending that people not return home, or make sure that they do follow the orders and self-isolate if they do," Cochrane said during a COVID-19 update on Thursday.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise across Canada, Cochrane said the risk of bringing the virus into the territory is high. 

She said she knows these decisions will be tough for parents and students, but that anyone who does return to the territory would need to self-isolate before they can take part in any events.

"And if they don't have their proper isolation, the whole family will have to self-isolate," Cochrane said.

N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola says N.W.T. residents should prepare for a 'different type of Christmas' this year. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC)

The premier delivered the advice during her first biweekly COVID-19 briefing with N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola. The updates are set to replace Kandola's regular media briefings on the weeks they are scheduled.

For a whole host of reasons, it's better that we have a different type of Christmas this year and we stay put.- Dr. Kami Kandola, N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer

Kandola added that Canada's chief public health officer has urged Canadians not to travel right now.

With Nunavut grappling with its own COVID-19 outbreak, Kandola also announced an end to the Nunavut-N.W.T. travel bubble last week, as well as changes to self-isolation requirements.

"What we're seeing is an increase in daily cases. We know that the longer winter days are still ahead of us," Kandola said.

"When we have increased travel from the South, typically we start to see outbreaks of flu in late December, early January. So for a whole host of reasons, it's better that we have a different type of Christmas this year and we stay put." 

Missed the update? Watch it here:

During the briefing, Cochrane alluded to possible changes to self-isolation requirements being in the works. 

She suggested the government is mulling whether to require people to pay their own way to stay at isolation centres.

"That was one of the stronger recommendations in the What we heard report," said Cochrane. 

"We have to find a balance between keeping people safe, providing supports, and then of course being accountable to the taxpayers for the money that we're spending."

The premier said an announcement would be coming in the next few weeks.

Vaccine rollout

Premiers have also been meeting weekly with the federal government to talk about how a vaccine would be rolled out, Cochrane said.

"We are hopeful that it'll be released in the spring," the premier said, adding it would be distributed to people who are most at risk first.

"Although it will be distributed probably per capita, we expect that the territories will get their fair share," she said. "Indigenous communities are also amongst the highest at-risk as well, which represents a huge part of our territory."

Storing the vaccine could be an issue for the N.W.T., but Cochrane said the federal government is aware of that and is working closely with the territory "to make sure that all of our people will receive the vaccinations in a timely period."

On another front, the chief public health officer was asked about the territory's ongoing wastewater testing program, which could uncover COVID-19 trends in communities by detecting its presence in asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic populations.

Kandola said that for the month of November, no sign of the virus was detected.

The territory is working on collecting samples from Hay River, Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Inuvik and Fort Simpson.

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