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Return to 'old normal' could be 12 to 18 months away, says Yukon's top doctor

Yukon chief medical officer Dr. Brendan Hanley says it's still too soon to ease any public health orders related to COVID-19. There have been 11 cases in the territory.

Dr. Brendan Hanley said the territory won't be easing restrictions any time soon

'There is no getting back to the 'old normal' until we have a population that is sufficiently immune,' said Dr. Brendan Hanley at a news conference on Wednesday. (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

Yukon's top doctor says it's too soon to plan on easing any restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and get back to "normal." 

"For now, normal means 'new normal.' There is no getting back to the 'old normal' until we have a population that is sufficiently immune," said Dr. Brendan Hanley at a news conference on Wednesday.

"[That] means COVID vaccine available and into enough arms to ensure us that the risk of community spread is negligible."

The current "working timeline" for that is about 12 to 18 months, Hanley said.

Some restrictions could be eased earlier than that, Hanley said, but he would not commit to any specifics. He said it's something officials are still looking at, along with other jurisdictions across the country.

Opening things up means looking at who is affected by current public health orders, and whether those orders might be adjusted, Hanley said.

"Examples might involve health-care services, businesses that are either constrained or currently under orders, or recreational or cultural facilities and activities," he said.

"We have much to do yet until we get to a place where we can safely ease restrictions."

Watch Wednesday's news conference here:

One thing that likely won't change anytime soon are border restrictions, Hanley said. Last week, the territorial government said it would begin turning away any travellers without a valid reason to be in the territory. 

Hanley said it's important to ensure that the borders remain tight, to control any importation of the coronavirus. So far, all of Yukon's confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been related to travel outside Yukon.

Hanley also said Wednesday that he's seen and heard that some people are getting lax about following public health orders. He said this is no time for people to let their guard down.

"We will get nowhere, and could end up behind the curve, if we let these go," he said.

"Though it seems like forever already, we are still early in this pandemic. We will need patience, stamina and mutual support to get through this."

No significant public exposure from recent cases

The territory has seen 11 cases of COVID-19 to date, and eight of the affected people have recovered from the illness.

So far, Yukon public health officials have found no evidence of community transmission, which is when a case's origin can't be traced.

The other three cases — two of them confirmed by Hanley on Monday — are all related to each other as part of a family "cluster." Hanley said Monday that the affected people self-isolated after some in the family returned from international travel, and he said contact tracing was underway.

On Wednesday, he said officials had not found "any significant public exposures associated with these cases."

Hanley said some decisions about easing restrictions depend on the territory's testing capacity. He said officials are looking at expanding the current criteria for testing in Yukon, and he promised more details on Friday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 878 Yukoners had been tested for COVID-19, and results were pending on 16 of those. The majority of those tests — more than 700 — were done in March.

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