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Yukon to reopen bars, allow outdoor visits for long-term care residents

Yukon has extended its state of emergency for another 90 days but is pushing forward with its restart plan. The territory is preparing to reopen bars and allow outdoor visits for long-term care residents. 

Territory extends state of emergency for another 90 days

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley at a government of Yukon COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse. (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

Yukon has extended its state of emergency for another 90 days but is pushing forward with its restart plan, as it reopens bars and allows outdoor visits for long-term care residents.

There are no new confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 11 people who contracted it have recovered.

The government said Friday that maintaining the state of emergency isn't about increased risk, but will allow it to respond quickly should cases flare up.

"We're definitely not out of the woods yet," Premier Sandy Silver said. "But we are making huge progress."

Bars will be allowed to reopen June 19 at 50 per cent capacity, the same limit as restaurants. Only groups of 10 or less will be able to sit together.

Live music won't be allowed, and recreation areas such as dart boards, pool tables, dance floors and pinball machines will stay closed for now.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley acknowledged bars may pose a higher risk than restaurants, but said they're similar in occupancy and seating.

All bars will have to submit an operational plan to health officials for approval and will be subject to inspection.

"What we want to discourage is the tendency to cluster or gather," Hanley said.

"If the rules and the plans are followed, then that's definitely a manageable risk."

The Dirty Northern pub in Whitehorse has removed tables and added Plexiglass between the booths. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Long-term care residents will also now be allowed outdoor visits. Residents can pick one visitor to meet at a pre-determined outdoor spot.

The reintroduction of visitors will be staggered over four phases, with the second phase allowing two outdoor visitors at the same time.

The territory's five long-term care homes have been closed to visitors and volunteers since March 16 to curb the spread of COVID-19. Most COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been linked to nursing and long-term care homes.

Reopening the border

Yukon is still on track to lift travel restrictions July 1 between the territory and neighbouring B.C.

Hanley said he regularly hears from people pleading to keep the border shut but said that isn't possible. Border closures are keeping families apart and hurting tourism, he said.

Visitors will be subject to questions at the border, to ensure they haven't been outside of B.C. in the previous 14 days. 

The risk of opening borders is not zero, Hanley said, but the territory will need hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors before another case of COVID-19 appears.

The chance of visitors passing COVID-19 during short, casual interactions is also very low, Hanley said.

"Let people who are passing through, pass through," he said. "Even a brief stop for gas or a much-needed item is not a high-risk activity."

The Yukon government says it will now deliver COVID-19 updates once a week, starting June 17.

Missed the news conference? Watch it here: 

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