North

Yukon eyes possible move to stage three COVID-19 plan next month

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley says while details are still being finalized, stage three would set the stage for life in the Yukon under the COVID-19 until a vaccine is developed or treatment options improve. 

So far so good in staggered relaunch, Yukon top doctor says, as territory considers next move

Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer of health, said he's in talks with the Premier about moving to stage three of the territory's relaunch plan as early as Aug. 1. (Alistair Maitland/Government of Yukon)

The Yukon government is eyeing a move to stage three of its relaunch strategy next month, the territory's top doctor announced Wednesday. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said, while details are still being finalized, stage three would set the stage for life in the Yukon under the COVID-19 pandemic — at least until a vaccine is developed or treatment options improve. 

"It will be the phase we live in for many months, possibly years to come," he said at a news conference Wednesday. 

Stage three is expected to build on what was already introduced under stage two. According to the government's relaunch document, that possibly includes easing border restrictions and returning most businesses to full operation, under some relaxed public health and hygiene measures.

Hanley said details on the next stage are expected later this month, after he consults with the Premier on how the territory can strike the right balance.

"Not too fast, so as to take on too much risk from a disease that continues to teach and surprise and sometimes to devastate," Hanley explained. "But not so slow as to smother any chance to bring back some vitality to our society." 

The territory entered phase two at the beginning of the month, with travellers from across the territories and B.C. permitted into the Yukon without having to self-isolate. Restaurants could also open at full capacity, so long as people could follow the two-metre physical distancing guideline.

In anticipation of increased testing demand as border restrictions ease, the government reopened its respiratory assessment centre in Whitehorse on Monday. To get tested, people still require a referral from the 811 healthcare hotline, a family doctor, community nurse or a hospital.

Hanley said the move is intended to ensure the territory's testing capacity stays ahead of any demand. 

No plan to end state of emergency

Community Services Minister John Streicker said around 250 British Columbia residents arrived in the Yukon on July 1 when border restrictions were eased. Tuesday, that number had dropped to around 100 B.C. visitors.

"As we proceed with our reopening plan, I anticipate we will continue to maintain a presence at the border and Whitehorse airport into the fall," he said.  

Streicker noted officials ticketed two Canadian residents on Friday who were found non-compliant with their declared travel plans in the territory, making it the fourth ticket issued under state of emergency legislation. The two people were required to leave, and showed no COVID-19 symptoms upon entry or departure, Streicker said.  

"Our COVID-19 response measures have been effective. The best defence Yukoners have against COVID-19 is our shared responsibility to practice the safe six," he said. 

Yukon health officials list the "six steps to staying safe" as: physical distancing; regular hand washing; staying home when sick; limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 people; limiting travel to communities and self-isolating when required.

The government has no immediate plans to end its state of emergency, Streicker noted, despite the Northwest Territories government making that move earlier this week. 

He said the order allows the government to ensure U.S. travellers are abiding by the mandatory travel corridor and issue tickets to any offenders. 

"We continue to review it and ask how we can pivot as we move through the phases. I don't think we look at it because N.W.T. is doing something, I think we look at it for ourselves and our situation here," said Streicker, noting B.C. recently reissued its state of emergency.

Rent assistance program extended

The government is set to extend its rent assistance program until September after consulting with the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and the landlords' association. Eligible tenants can apply to receive support to cover 50 per cent of their median rent, Streicker said. 

"As with all of our programs, we worked hard to get them out quickly and we always said what we would do is review them over time, so I think the program has been successful and we felt that there's still impacts from COVID-19 so we decided to extend it through this fall," he said. 

Earlier this week, Whitehorse General Hospital changed its visiting policy to allow all admitted patients one designated, consistent visitor. Patients and clients checking in for blood work, imaging exams and specialist appointments will not be permitted a support person except in limited circumstances. 

Despite the easing of border restrictions, travel to B.C. is still considered a higher-risk event when it comes to long-term care facilities and hospitals. As such, Hanley said, individuals who recently travelled to B.C. or are in contact with someone who travelled to the province could have their elective surgeries postponed if certain conditions are not met. 

"If you have an elective procedure booked, please don't travel outside the territory, or at least phone and check what the requirements will be before you plan your travel," he said. 

Hanley said if an elective surgery is postponed, provisions would be made to accommodate the patient as soon as possible.

The chief medical officer's updates are now scheduled to take place once every two weeks, rather than the typical weekly updates. 

The territory has not reported a confirmed COVID-19 case since April 20. According to the government, all cases had recovered by May 1.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story quoted Dr. Brendan Hanley referring to the 'safe six [feet away].' In fact, Hanley was referring to the government's six recommended steps to staying safe.
    Jul 09, 2020 3:59 PM CT

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