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Yukon campgrounds to open in June — but only to Yukoners

Yukon officials say the territory's campgrounds will open to campers on June 4, but the territory's borders will remain closed. They also issued guidelines for some health care services to reopen.

Officials also issue guidelines for chiropractors, naturopaths, other health services to reopen

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said Friday that territorial campgrounds will open June 4, but campers will still have to practice safe distancing, stay with their family unit, and bring 'extra water for handwashing.' (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Yukon officials say the territory's parks and campgrounds will open next month, as part of phased approach to lifting restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier Sandy Silver said campgrounds will open on June 4, but only for Yukoners — the territory's borders will remain closed, and people given permission to pass through the territory won't be allowed to do a pit stop at a park.

"We have a lot of space, we have a lot of parks, but we are concentrating on the use of those for Yukoners only, at this point," said Silver.

Silver also said the government will work with local communities and First Nations on opening parks in their vicinity, to ensure their concerns are met.

He also said it won't be just another summer at the parks — campers will still have to practice safe distancing, stay with their family unit, and bring "extra water for handwashing."

"Camping will look a bit different his year, for many obvious reasons," Silver said.

Silver also said that the plan to reopen parks is still being finalized, and Yukoners will be informed if there are reasons to keep some parks will closed.

He also said officials are still recommending against any non-essential travel to Yukon communities, but that those recommendations could be eased in the coming weeks. He said any decisions will be made after consulting with community leaders.

"This is very important that this work is done with the community leaders, so they feel empowered and safe in this decision."  

Some health services can reopen

Government officials also issued new guidelines on Friday for some health services to reopen, including chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths, occupational therapists, osteopaths, physiotherapists, and registered massage therapists.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said the guidelines offer "guidance around just the basic protections to prevent any possibility of COVID[-19] transmission, within that environment."

Watch Friday's news conference here:

Silver said Yukon's reopening plan is a "gradual and phased" approach, based on national health standards. He promised to provide more details on the plan next week.

He also reiterated that there are no plans to reopen the territory's border "until later phases.". Keeping the border tight will allow other restrictions within the territory to be gradually eased, he said.

"This is because the importation of COVID-19 to Yukon is our greatest risk," Silver said. 

Last week, the territory confirmed that it had charged a man under the territory's Civil Emergency Measures Act, for failing to stay in his home for 14 days after arriving in the territory.

It was the first such charge to be announced by territorial officials. The Whitehorse man pleaded guilty in Yukon Territorial Court this week, and was fined $500.

Silver and Chief Medical Officer of Health Brendan Hanley said Friday that the territory was taking a phased approach to reopening, and that more details would follow next week. (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

The territory has seen 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and all of them have been related to travel outside the territory. All 11 people have recovered from their illnesses, and the last new confirmed case was announced three weeks ago.

Increase in illicit drug-related deaths

Also on Friday, health officials issued a warning about drug use in the territory, saying there's been a "significant increase" in the number of illicit drug-related deaths in the territory in recent months.

In a news release, Hanley and Yukon chief coroner Heather Jones said seven people have suffered drug-related deaths in Yukon since January, and three of those are confirmed to be fentanyl-related.

Jones said in a written statement that's more than double the number of drug-related deaths over the same period last year.

"This is cause for real concern," her statement reads.

Yukon's chief coroner Heather Jones says a recent increase in illicit drug-related deaths is 'cause for real concern.' (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The government news release does not tie the deaths directly to the COVID-19, but says the pandemic "compounds the ongoing public health crisis related to high rates of illicit drug overdose and deaths."

It also refers to the street supply of drugs possibly becoming more unpredictable "as regular supply channels are disrupted, and supports for people who use drugs are difficult to access."

Hanley, also in a written statement, said there's no way of knowing whether the COVID-19 pandemic had any direct impact on the number of drug-related deaths.

"But it does offer us the opportunity to remind individuals to not use alone and to have a naloxone kit handy," his statement reads. As of Thursday, Yukon had seen 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and all of those people had recovered from their illness.

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