North

N.W.T. officials aim to release plan next week for lifting COVID-19 restrictions

People in the Northwest Territories will have to wait at least another two to three weeks for any easing of Covid-19 restrictions, say health officials. There are no active cases of the disease, and some residents are growing frustrated as they see restrictions being eased in provinces.

N.W.T. novel coronavirus restrictions to remain in place for at least 2 to 3 weeks

An environmental health officer speaks with a motorist in this file photo. N.W.T. health officials are working on a plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place for more than a month. (Katie Toth/CBC)

People in the Northwest Territories will have to wait at least another two to three weeks for any easing of COVID-19 restrictions, say health officials.

There are no active cases of the respiratory disease in the territory and it's been more than three weeks since the last case was detected. There have been no cases of it being spread from one resident to another.

As they learn of plans to reopen businesses and schools in the provinces, some in the territory are growing frustrated with continued restrictions here and the lack of a plan for lifting them.

"I see Saskatchewan, by mid-May they'll have the golf courses open," said Mervin Gruben, speaking from Inuvik. "Give us a little hope to look forward to. As of now there's zero."

Manitoba has also announced it will be allowing some businesses — including hair salons, dentists, physiotherapists and restaurant patios — to reopen starting Monday, albeit with restrictions to allow physical distancing.

Quebec, which has been hardest hit by the coronavirus, has unveiled a plan that allows some schools, businesses and factories to reopen in May. Other provinces have either begun lifting restrictions or unveiled plans to do so.

On Wednesday, N.W.T. health officials said they are hoping to release a plan at the end of next week for a phased lifting of restrictions. Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola said it will be at least two to three weeks before any restrictions are actually lifted.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the Northwest Territories chief public health officer, says COVID-19 restrictions, such as a ban on almost all gatherings, will remain in place for another two to three weeks. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

In developing the plan, Kandola said her officials are considering issues such as the best way to manage returns to work within governments and schools, how to ease restrictions on gatherings and how to protect the most vulnerable until a vaccine is developed.

 "We will not have further details today because it's important that we present a plan with the triggers, milestones and parameters defined right away so we do not confuse residents," she said.

Kandola said over the next two weeks there will be increased testing in smaller communities to ensure the disease is not spreading there. There is mounting evidence that many who get the virus exhibit no symptoms or only mild symptoms.

Restrictions 'hurting everybody on the inside'

Gruben says the N.W.T. restrictions — which include a ban on almost all social gatherings — were imposed just before a number of deaths in the region unrelated to COVID-19.

"The biggest thing that's hurting us up here is we're having so many deaths and funerals and stuff and people can't get together," said the former Tuktoyaktuk mayor. "Our people are traditional. We help each other to heal, and this is just hurting everybody on the inside more than anything."

Kandola said one of the first restrictions she's looking at easing is the ban on mass gatherings such as funerals.

Small businesses are also hoping to see a plan for easing restrictions as soon as possible. Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce officials said business owners need advance notice of measures being taken so they can prepare to reopen.

"We're not saying things need to be opened right now," executive director Deneen Everett said. "That's a decision for public health officials and experts to make. But we need to have a plan so that when we want to start getting things back to normal, what does that look like?"

Everett said, for example, if businesses will be required to have Plexiglas shields installed between workers and their customers at checkouts, they need to know ahead of time so they can order them and have them in place as soon as they are allowed to open.

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