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Yukon may have reached peak of Omicron wave, top doc says

Yukon is still "in the thick of it" with the Omicron wave of COVID-19, according to the territory's top doctor. But Dr. Catherine Elliott says there are signs that the territory may soon be through the worst of it. 

'We need a bit more time to watch the trends, to be certain,' said Dr. Catherine Elliott

Yukon acting chief medical officer of health Dr. Catherine Elliott said Thursday that community transmission was still widespread in the territory. (Jackie Hong/CBC )

Yukon is still "in the thick of" the Omicron wave of COVID-19, according to the territory's top doctor. But Dr. Catherine Elliott says there are signs that the territory may soon be through the worst of it. 

"It looks at this point as though we've reached the Omicron peak, and we have early signals that we may be starting the decline," said Elliott, the territory's acting chief medical officer, on Thursday morning.

"We need a bit more time to watch the trends, to be certain."

As of Thursday morning, there were 99 known active cases of COVID-19 in the territory. The test positivity rate, averaged over seven days, was around 35 per cent — which Elliott described as "very high." The case count does not reflect the number of people who may have tested at home without requiring medical care.

She said community transmission was still widespread in the territory.

As of Wednesday, there were no new hospitalizations due to COVID-19, health officials said. The Yukon Hospitals website said there were inpatient beds available at all three of the territory's hospitals and in Whitehorse's intensive care unit.

Earlier this week, Elliott announced that two more Yukoners had died of COVID-19. That brought the total number of deaths to 20 since the pandemic began.

An outbreak was also declared on Wednesday at the Thomson Centre long term care home in Whitehorse. Officials said there were "several linked COVID-19 cases" there. Outbreak measures have also been extended in one house at the Whistle Bend long term care home. 

Watch Thursday's news conference:

Still on track to ease restrictions 

Last week, officials said public health restrictions would be slowly eased this month in Yukon if the number of new infections and hospitalizations stayed down.

On Thursday, Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai confirmed the territory was still on track to do that. 

"We are in a position to continue with that plan," he said, speaking alongside Elliott.

Elliott acknowledged that Yukon's timeline is slower than other jurisdictions that are now easing public health restrictions more quickly.

"Some are doing this due to being further along in the wave, some are doing this due to other pressures and concerns," she said.

"Just like the seasons, we're a little later in our wave and we're at a time where we must all dig deep and have perspective on this right now."   

Last weekend, restrictions were eased on the number of players allowed to participate in recreational team sports for those under 19. Similar rules take effect this week for recreational sports for those over 19, as well as arts and cultural activities.

Pillai said other restrictions will be loosened on Friday:

  • Limits on indoor cultural gatherings, including weddings or funerals, will be 25 people or 50 per cent of the venue capacity, with no restrictions on the number of households.
  • Indoor personal gatherings will still be limited to 10 people, with no more limit on the number of households.
  • Outdoor personal gatherings still limited to 25 people, but no limit on the the number of households.
  • Bars and restaurants can resume bar and countertop service with same spacing requirements. 

Next week, restrictions will be further eased for indoor organized events, Pillai said.

The minister also announced new funding to help bars and restaurants stay afloat. Those businesses can receive up to $20,000 per month to help cover costs, including payroll. Rebates will also be offered on liquor licences.

The government is also streamlining the Yukon Nominee Program, which allows Yukon businesses to hire foreign workers to fill staff vacancies. Pillai said many businesses have struggled to find staff through the pandemic. 

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