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Not the time to ease COVID-19 restrictions, says Yukon's top doctor

Yukon's chief medical officer says it's not yet time to ease COVID-19 restrictions, even as the territory has no active cases and a majority of the eligible population has received their first vaccine shot.

'Hang in there and stick with us,' said Dr. Brendan Hanley on Wednesday

COVID-19 variants continue to pose a risk to Yukon, as other jurisdictions struggle with growing case numbers, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley on Wednesday. He warned variants could still easily come to Yukon and cause outbreaks.  (Alistair Maitland/Government of Yukon)

Yukon's chief medical officer says it's not yet time to ease COVID-19 restrictions, even as the territory has no active cases and a majority of the eligible population has received at least their first vaccine shot.

"I get how tired everyone is of hearing about COVID-19," said Dr. Brendan Hanley at his weekly news conference on Wednesday morning.

"We're all tired. But we have to face the reality that we are not through this yet. I think we are getting close, but Canada and most of the world has a rough period to go through first, and we can't be completely insulated from that harsh reality."

Hanley confirmed on Wednesday that two recent cases in Yukon, identified last month, involved the B117 variant of COVID-19. He said both people have since recovered.

But he said variants continue to pose a risk to Yukon, as other jurisdictions in Canada struggle with growing case numbers. Variants could still easily come to Yukon and cause an outbreak, Hanley warned. 

He called variants — and vaccines — "game-changers" in the ongoing pandemic, "but in opposite directions."

"We cannot talk about next steps and lifting measures without being very conscious of the risks that COVID-19 brings to Yukon," he said.

Watch Wednesday's news conference here:

According to the territory's online vaccine tracker, updated weekly, about 68 per cent of eligible Yukoners — 23,954 people — had received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine as of Tuesday. Thirty-five per cent, or 13,239 people, had also received their second dose. 

Hanley said on Wednesday that rate of vaccination doesn't yet allow for easing restrictions.   

"Not yet. We have made great progress overall, but the uptake has slowed and we still have almost half of our younger adults still susceptible."

Still, Hanley tried to offer a note of optimism. He suggested that health officials are actively looking at how to ease things up, but said nothing definite would happen until sometime after next week's territorial election.

"We are using this time to put together all the ingredients that will feed into the best public health advice that we can provide to a new government," he said.

Asked about a protest planned in Whitehorse against the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, he urged people to be careful about where they get their information about the pandemic from, and to "hang in there and stick with us."

"We know that it's by sticking together that we have done well. I know that I'm not going to convince everyone that that's the case." 

First Nations support status quo

On Wednesday, two Whitehorse-area First Nations — Kwanlin Dün and the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council — issued a statement in support of keeping the current public health orders in place.

Both First Nations echoed Hanley's concern about the spread of COVID-19 variants in other parts of the country.

'I don't think now is the time' to ease COVID-19-related restrictions in Yukon, said Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill on Wednesday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"I am in full support of keeping the restrictions in place," Kwanlin Dün Chief Doris Bill told CBC. 

"I know Chief Medical Officer Hanley is under increasing pressure to lift the restrictions. But I don't think now is the time."

In their written statement, Bill and Ta'an Kwäch'än Chief Kristina Kane said Indigenous communities are among those most vulnerable to COVID-19, and Yukon's First Nations "could be greatly impacted if this virus is allowed to spread."

To date, Yukon has seen 74 cases of COVID-19, with 73 people now recovered. One person has died.

Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Philippe Morin

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