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Yukon government begins first phase of easing restrictions, but offers few firm dates

The Yukon government has issued a plan to gradually loosen restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic — but with few firm dates attached.

More details of territory's 'phased' approach to lifting COVID-19 restrictions revealed

Yukon Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley and Premier Sandy Silver provided more details on Friday about the territory's plan to ease some restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The Yukon government has issued a plan to gradually loosen restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic — but with few firm dates attached.

Rather, the 44-page plan — titled "A Path Forward" — describes a series of phases culminating in what's being called "new normal," before a vaccine is widely available.

"The transition from one phase to another will be based on meeting certain criteria meant to minimize risk and to ensure that we are proceeding in a way that protects public health at each and every step," said Premier Sandy Silver at a news conference on Friday.

Silver also said the plan identifies "triggers" that may prompt more easing of restrictions, or re-tightening them.

The plan identifies the first, "restart" phase as beginning immediately. 

Silver said one of the central parts of the restart phase is that some businesses that were mandated to close can now look to reopen — but first they need an approved plan.   

"This doesn't necessarily mean that everything that was closed will automatically reopen today, it does mean that the guidelines are being developed to support businesses as they reopen," Silver said.

"It doesn't all start today, but as of today, it can start," he said.

Missed Friday's news conference? Watch it here:

Officials also said during the "restart" phase, families can begin to visit each other's homes under a "bubble" model — meaning up to two households can form a combined household unit and visit each other exclusively in groups up to 10. 

"So that's a major shift," Silver said.

Restaurants are still restricted to takeout and delivery under the current phase, but must submit an operational plan. Dine-in restaurants won't be able to operate until guidelines are developed — likely next week, Silver said — and an operational plan is approved. They will also be subject to inspection once open.

Bars will also remain closed for the foreseeable future, and until guidelines are developed and an operational plan approved.  

The plan says restrictions may be eased on religious services and funerals starting now, "based on a public health assessment."

It's not clear how long the restart phase may last, before the territory moves into the so-called "recover" phase, followed by the "new normal." 

"In reality, we're looking at anywhere from weeks to months per phase," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley, also at Friday's news conference.

"I think the first phase is a really big step."

Border restrictions to remain tight  

The territory has already eased some restrictions in recent weeks, but Premier Sandy Silver has also consistently pledged a cautious and "phased" approach to reopening.

Officials have also said that border and travel restrictions in the territory will likely remain in place for some time yet.

An information station is set up along the Alaska Highway in Whitehorse to give travellers information about Yukon's restrictions related to COVID-19. Officials have said that border restrictions will likely remain in place in Yukon, even as other restrictions are eased. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Yukon has seen 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and all of those people have recovered. The last confirmed cases were announced nearly a month ago.

Last week, officials issued new guidelines for some health services to resume in the territory, including chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths, occupational therapists, osteopaths, physiotherapists and registered massage therapists.

Silver also announced last week that plans were being finalized to open territorial parks and campgrounds starting June 4.

And earlier this month, Yukon hospitals began offering elective and non-urgent services again, including bloodwork and X-rays. Those services had been suspended in March.

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