North

Yukon officials eye plan to reopen, but won't set a date yet

The territory's chief medical officer of health acknowledges the need to reopen soon but, citing the possibility of a new outbreak, says officials won't rush.

Number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 stands at 11

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and Chief Medical Officer of Health Brendan Hanley speak during a news conference in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020 (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says his government will take a "precautionary" approach to reopening the territory's economy as the risk of COVID-19 transmission begins to ease.

Silver told a news conference Tuesday that a reopening plan is still being formulated, but the government won't rush.

"If we move too quickly, or without understanding the necessary planning and co-ordination, we risk increasing the spread of COVID-19 in our territory," Silver said. 

"That would force us to reintroduce restrictions that would further disrupt society and economic conditions in our territory, and no one wants to see that."

On Tuesday the federal government and Canada's premiers released an outline for restarting the economy

Those guidelines include ensuring the health system can handle and track existing COVID-19 cases. They also include ensuring workplaces can reopen safely, that vulnerable groups are protected, and that jurisdictions work together on easing travel restrictions.

'An economic bloodbath'

Pressure to reopen the economy is starting to build. Rich Thompson, chair of a business advisory committee that meets weekly to talk about economic issues with the government, said business owners are watching with interest reopening plans in Saskatchewan and Ontario.

"It's a nightmare out there," Thompson said. "It really is an economic bloodbath. Not all businesses will survive, unfortunately."

But Thompson stressed the private sector is okay with not having clear timelines on reopening and instead basing the decision on public health.

Opening too soon could trigger outbreak, Hanley says

Health officials are giving no signs that they will be rushed. Hanley acknowledged the desire to reopen, but said relaxing public health measures too soon could trigger an new outbreak, either through community spread or new clusters of travel-related cases.

"We cannot wait too long [to reopen], as we know there are significant, if not severe, financial, social, and health related impacts to the current restrictions," he said.

"Let it be clear ... if we relax too soon, or too much, we could, in the blink of an eye, be overwhelmed by a local COVID outbreak or epidemic."

There were no new cases of COVID-19 announced Tuesday. The territory still stands at 11 confirmed cases. Hanley said there was a slight spike in new tests over the weekend, after relaxed testing criteria came into force.

Hanley also reminded the public that businesses that have not specifically been ordered to close may remain open, so long as they observe physical distancing and other preventative measures. Workplaces, he said, are not covered by the ban on social gatherings of 10 or more people.

Silver thanked healthcare and frontline workers who have had to stay on the job during the pandemic. 

And he thanked Yukoners for following the government's rules and guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the disease. That has included the shutdown of personal services, such as hairdressers.

"Thank you for rocking the floppy hairdos while you resist getting a home haircut," Silver said.

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