As Yukon eases quarantine rule, Beaufort Delta residents push for exemption

For most N.W.T. residents, travelling to Yukon is getting easier — but returning is still just as difficult.

Residents are happy it’s easier to travel to Yukon, but say more needs to be done

A car travels on the Dempster Highway, which connects several of the N.W.T.'s northernmost communities with southern Canada via Yukon. Yukon is eliminating quarantine requirements for vaccinated individuals, but the N.W.T. has yet to follow suit. (iStock)

As Yukon has lifted mandatory isolation requirements for travellers who are fully vaccinated, it's not just good news for Yukoners, but for residents from the Northwest Territories.

Residents of the territory's northwestern Beaufort Delta region often talk about how they feel more connected to Yukon at times than the N.W.T. because of how accessible it is. They travel to visit family on the other side of the border and to shop where prices are lower.

But while travelling to Yukon is easier, returning is still difficult. Now, some residents are pushing for an exemption to the N.W.T.'s strict quarantine requirements for those returning from the territory to the west.

Shari Coxford, originally from Yukon, will be heading there this summer. The mom who runs a dayhome is hoping that the N.W.T. will follow suit with easing of the restrictions or at least create a bubble for the Yukon and the region.

"Me not making the trip to Whitehorse with my truck, I probably had to fork out an extra $10,000 on flour, baking ingredients and my staples," said Coxford.

"It's frustrating that we don't have a … bubble with them," she said. "It's frustrating that I'm reading daily all other provinces and territories coming out with plans to lift restrictions as vaccinations and immunizations ramp up, and yet zero from us."

"If anything it's gotten worse."

'We have zero plans'

Growing up in Dawson City, Coxford said she's lived in the North her whole life and knows that it's important for people to get out of town now and then.

The plan is for her kids to spend most of the summer in the Yukon with their grandmother, but for her, it's a bit more difficult.

Although she will no longer be required to do a month of quarantine so she can visit her family and get essentials, she will still have to isolate for at least 8 days under the territory's current policies, even though she is vaccinated.

Since she's in a non-governmental job where she can't work while in quarantine, COVID-19 restrictions continue to have an impact.

Shari Coxford with her two kids. Coxford said it's frustrating to hear little about reopening in the N.W.T. when the neighbouring territory is prepared to welcome vaccinated travellers without restrictions. (Submitted by Shari Coxford)

"We've been locked in this territory for over a year… and the rest of Canada is opening," she said. "Why is that, when their numbers are high...? We have zero plans."

Coxford said she believes those in charge of making the rules aren't considering communities that aren't connected to Yellowknife. 

She said she understands that hospitals can be overwhelmed if COVID-19 comes into the community, but she also thinks the territory has arrived at a point where something needs to change.

"They totally don't realize the impact that it's had on the four to five communities on this side of the border," she said. "We depend on the Yukon…. You need to get out."

"Our only way out of here is that road, [the Dempster highway], and it's horrible to have this, a year later, and have almost no restrictions lifted when we've had [almost] no cases in this town."

'A month of isolating … for a 9-hour drive'

For Sherene Raddi, the quarantine rules in both Yukon and N.W.T. have meant that she's been without her vehicle since November.

She was in Edmonton for educational training to become a certified nail technician. She returned to Inuvik in November, but freeze-up was occurring so she left her car in Dawson City and flew to Inuvik.

However, by the time the Mackenzie River was opened to traffic, Raddi would have had to isolate in both territories.

"So that's like a month of isolating just to pick up a car for a nine-hour drive," said Raddi.

Communities in the N.W.T.'s northwestern Beaufort Delta region rely on their connection to Yukon for inexpensive staples, especially in communities connected to the Dempster Highway (yellow). (CBC)

Raddi said she originally thought she could avoid isolation since there is a rule that allows some people to enter and exit the territory within a single 12-hour period, but that exemption has been reserved for essential workers.

"I got [it] second hand so it was no more than $3,000," she said of her vehicle. "So to pay $1,200, minimum … for a delivery service to the border … was just a big headache."

She's planning on picking up her car in the next two weeks, and is happy that the N.W.T. has lessened isolation periods for those fully vaccinated, since it will save her almost a full work week.

Now, she's planning a mini-vacation to Yukon to make the isolation worth it.

Raddi said she agreed with Yukon's border being closed when the territory was still open to travellers from B.C. But now that that's not the case, she said, it's time for things to open up.

Travel 'taken for granted'

Ken Kyikavichik, grand chief of Gwich'in Tribal Council, has been vocal about the need for an exemption with the Yukon and Beaufort Delta region.

"The biggest thing is the cost of living," said Kyikavichik. 

Most trips residents take are fairly short, he said, so it hasn't been worth the travel for all the isolation required.

"We are hopeful that we will see something materialize by the time that the ferries come into operation," said Kyikavichik. "To be able to drive down the Dempster is something we often took for granted."