North

N.W.T. plan to reopen economy is coming 'very soon,' top doctor says

In a press conference on Wednesday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola urged the territory to "hang on just a little while longer" and said the territory was considering "friendship bubbles" and business reopenings.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola urges territory to 'hang on' a little bit longer

Dr. Kami Kandola says reopening businesses and allowing low-risk social activities will depend on tightened borders so that COVID-19 can't spread in communities. (Chantal Dubuc/ CBC)

A plan for reopening the Northwest Territories economy and easing restrictions designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 is on the way "very soon," according to the territory's top doctor.

"We will move forward," said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola. "All I ask is for people to hang on just a little while longer."

In a press conference Wednesday, Kandola urged antsy northerners to stick to the rules for physical distancing and to "be kind to each other."

"We're on the homestretch in developing a plan to emerge from our current level of restrictions," she said, telling reporters that a final draft of the plan was currently under review and would be released "definitely within the week, if not earlier."

A government spokesperson later said a plan could arrive this week or "early next week at the latest." 

Certain business activities and lower-risk outdoor gatherings will be allowed before higher-risk activities, Kandola said. 

Kandola said the document is detailed and was made consulting with businesses. It discusses how to lift restrictions in a phased approach. An order on lifting restrictions is also undergoing legal review.

In a file photo, a public health officer tells drivers about her role enforcing COVID-19-related rules. Kandola says the territory is finalizing its plan to lift restrictions. (Katie Toth/CBC)

The reopening strategy will be shared before an order on lifting restrictions comes into effect, so that businesses and people have time to prepare for the new rules and operate safely, Kandola said.

She said the strategy allows the territory to increase restrictions if a "second wave" of COVID-19 happens in the autumn, which public health experts have said is common in viral pandemics. 

Tourism unlikely to see revival in summer

However, tourism is unlikely to see a revival this summer, Kandola said.

"The ability for us to relax measures relates to … border security," she said, adding that the territorial government will only allow N.W.T. residents and essential workers to enter the territory this summer. 

Kandola also said that her team is looking at the provinces that have allowed families to select an additional household to spend time with, sometimes referred to as "double bubbles."

"We'd be calling them something like friendship bubbles or just small social circles," she said. "We'd be taking that into consideration."

Testing setbacks 'not significant,' says government

Kandola added that since the territorial government had broadened the criteria for getting tested for COVID-19, more people were coming in to get swabbed.

"[This is] exactly what we wanted," she said.

The territory has two testing kits at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife. Two more have been ordered, Kandola said.  

In April, Kandola and territorial medical director Dr. Sarah Cook announced that they ordered seven of Spartan Bioscience's cube-shaped rapid tests— a different model of COVID-19 testing kits from the ones at Stanton. Those kits never arrived in the territory because they were voluntarily recalled on Sunday, due to inaccuracies.

"The intent was to bring them into [communities] so that they can have more rapid testing on site," said Kandola.

COVID-19 response spokesperson Mike Westwick said on Sunday that officials hope the problems with the test are fixed soon, because the cube's portability was a key feature that would allow officials to test people in "non-traditional locations like boundary crossings."

Westwick added that the cube's recall was "not a significant setback," and existing test kits should be enough to get a sense of whether COVID-19 is moving through the territory.  

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