North

Tighter restrictions at N.W.T. border could mean looser ones inside, says premier

The N.W.T. was the first jurisdiction to close its borders to most non-residents and in so doing, the territory has been able to contain the spread of the disease, said Premier Caroline Cochrane.

Caroline Cochrane says border restrictions will stay until Canadian COVID-19 curve starts to flatten

A file photo of Caroline Cochrane. Premier Cochrane says N.W.T. border restrictions will remain until the COVID-19 curve begins flattening across Canada. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

If the Northwest Territories can keep tight restrictions at the border, creating something of a bubble around the territory, restrictions inside can be loosened, says Premier Caroline Cochrane.

The territorial government banned all non-essential travel to the N.W.T., with some exemptions, in March and on Monday, more rules were put in place for returning territorial residents and workers.

"The idea of the orders was to tighten up our borders to make sure that we're checking more ... and to tighten up the essential workers when they're coming into the territory," Cochrane told Loren McGinnis on CBC's The Trailbreaker on Wednesday. 

"If we make sure that this works, then we can actually start loosening other orders for people." 

Cochrane said border restrictions will be in place until the COVID-19 curve starts to flatten across Canada.

The N.W.T. was the first jurisdiction to close its borders to most non-residents and in so doing, Cochrane said, the territory has been able to contain the spread of the disease. All five of the territory's confirmed cases were related to travel and have recovered.

"That strategy works," said Cochrane. "So until the risk across Canada is lessened, the curve is flattened, or starting to, we won't even consider opening our borders."

An N.W.T. transportation officer stops vehicles coming in and out of Enterprise, N.W.T. in March, to let them know of a travel ban for non-residents into the territory. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

With a vaccine nowhere in sight, Cochrane said she isn't counting on it being a "saviour" for the territory in the next few months. Rather, she's holding fast to strict physical distancing measures and bans on gatherings as the best defence against COVID-19.

"And wear those masks," she said. "[They're] not for protecting yourself, it's for protecting those around us. If everyone wears a mask, it really shows the caring that we have in our communities."

Unclear when territory will reopen

Provinces such as Saskatchewan and Quebec have announced plans to begin reopening some businesses, but no such plan has been unveiled in the N.W.T.

When asked specifically about the territory's plan to start loosening restrictions, Cochrane didn't give a clear answer.

She said the government is working to determine "our relief packages and our asks to the federal government."

The government is taking into account both the economic and the "social" impacts of the territory's lockdown, said Cochrane.

Until the risk across Canada is lessened, the curve is flattened, or starting to, we won't even consider opening our borders.- N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane

"We've realized the social impact of COVID-19, as well," she said, noting issues with overcrowded housing, protecting people who are homeless, and the mental health of residents isolated in their homes.

Cochrane said she'll be presenting the outline of an "economic and social plan" to MLAs Wednesday, and hopes to give the public a glimpse of that plan in about a week. 

She said the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment is surveying businesses about how the shutdown is affecting them, and that she's asked government departments how COVID-19 is affecting their work and expenses. 

The Legislative Assembly is also trying to work out how they can sit amid the ban on most indoor gatherings.

"We have a budget to get passed, so we need to sit," said Cochrane.

Whether the government sits in person or virtually, come the session starting May 26, Cochrane said the government will need to change legislation to accommodate virtual meetings. 

"This is going to be probably the way of the future, part of our new norm," she said. "It would be foolish of the assembly not to change our legislation to accommodate virtual meetings if the case becomes necessary."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Cochrane said she would be presenting an economic and social plan to MLAs on Thursday. Her office later corrected her statement and said she's presenting Wednesday.
    Apr 29, 2020 10:31 AM CT

Written by Sidney Cohen based on an interview by Loren McGinnis

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