'I stand by our decisions' to ease COVID-19 restrictions, says Yukon premier as outbreak continues

Yukon's top health officials say they're not second-guessing any decisions to ease pandemic restrictions in recent months, despite the current outbreak that is not yet contained.

Decisions about pandemic 'weigh heavily,' says Premier Sandy Silver, 'but I think our approach is sound'

'When you take public office, when you take these positions of leadership, then you're always in a position where your decisions are going to affect the outcomes,' said Premier Sandy Silver on Wednesday. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Yukon's top health officials say they're not second-guessing any decisions to ease pandemic restrictions in recent months, despite the outbreak that began just weeks ago and is still not contained.

As of Wednesday morning, the territory's active case count was 103, up from 92 on Tuesday afternoon. The total number of new cases since the start of the outbreak this month was 144, with five of those people sent to hospital. 

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley said the numbers are changing often, as new cases are confirmed while other people recover. 

Of the five people who have been hospitalized, Hanley said three of those people were still in hospital on Wednesday. One of them is out of the territory in intensive care, and the other two are in hospital in Yukon — one in stable condition, and one "more serious," he said.

Hanley said it's believed that all the recent cases are part of a single outbreak, and likely linked to one originating case. However, he said it may never be known how the infection first arrived in the territory.

There will be more cases, he said, "although I believe that we have now moved past the initial rush."

Eased restrictions

The outbreak was declared just weeks after the territory — then free of any active cases — eased some pandemic-related restrictions including those on the size of gatherings. Bars and restaurants were also allowed to return to full-capacity indoor seating.

Officials have said the current outbreak is at least partly the result of large gatherings, including graduation events and parties. 

Hanley and Premier Sandy Silver were asked at Wednesday's news conference whether their decisions mean they bear some personal responsibility for the current outbreak.

"When you take public office, when you take these positions of leadership, then you're always in a position where your decisions are going to affect the outcomes. Absolutely that weighs heavily on me everyday. But I think our approach is sound," Silver said.

"I stand by our decisions."

Hanley echoed Silver's comments, saying that everything he does is for the well-being of Yukoners, and "there is no risk-free approach."

"Look at the mental health consequences of restrictions. Look at suicide. Look at addictions and how addictions have been aggravated. Look at alcohol injury, look at opioids," Hanley said.

"Don't think that there are not consequences to public health restrictions."

Officials have said there are no plans to re-introduce tougher restrictions. 

Watch Wednesday's news conference:

'These next few weeks will help to determine our future' 

Hanley also said that the current outbreak means the country's eyes are again on the territory — but now "for a very different reason."

Hanley said Yukon was long the envy of other places, with a low case count and a high rate of vaccination.

"These next few weeks will help to determine our future, as well as help many other jurisdictions learn how we manage an outbreak amongst a highly-vaccinated population." 

Of the 144 people infected with COVID-19 since the latest outbreak began, 122 were not vaccinated, Hanley said. The affected people range in age from one to 90.

Yukon Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley says the current outbreak in the territory mostly involves unvaccinated people. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Health officials have said that since June 4, screening results have indicated all cases are positive for the gamma (P.1) variant.

Exposure notices have been sent to several schools throughout the territory, advising staff and students to either self-isolate or self-monitor, depending on exposure.

Officials are urging anyone with any COVID-19 symptoms to get tested as soon as possible, and self-isolate as required.

"We want to find people who are infectious, and isolate them and their contacts to prevent others from getting infected," Hanley said.

As of Tuesday, 74 per cent of the territory's eligible adult population had been fully vaccinated, while 82 per cent had received their first shot.

Those figures do not include those in the 12-to-18-year-old age group, which started receiving shots late last month. Hanley said late last week that 59 per cent of Yukoners in that age group had had their first shot.

He said that vaccination rates have increased since the latest outbreak began.

 "We are seeing a significant increase in demand in both Whitehorse and rural Yukon," he said. 

With files from Chris Windeyer


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