As I was sitting down at my desk and getting geared up to write my column last week, I found myself with a case of writer’s block. I simply had nothing pandemic-related to complain about! Summer was in full swing, for many of us our lives were mostly back to a kind of normal, and life was pretty good in a Covid-19 free territory compared to other parts of the world and even much of Canada.
I thought about grouching about the completely unnecessary NWT State of Emergency whose powers have been unused since imposed in March. But our premier beat me to it and ended the State of Emergency last week. I thought about weighing into the mask debate, but frankly if we have to wear masks at times to minimize incidences of coronavirus transmission among us, that is not a lot to ask. I was at a real loss for words. So I stood up from my desk, shut down my computer, and decided to wait to write my column when I actually had something to grumble about.
Turns out I didn’t have to wait very long.
Over the past few days, I’ve been approached by friends and strangers alike with the same concern. They are noticing a lot of people who seem to be ignoring the requirement for 14-day self-isolation upon entering the territory.
Licence plates on unfamiliar vehicles from British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta, and even Oregon have been spotted driving around Yellowknife. People who are known to have just returned from the south on medical are wandering about freely interacting with the rest of us. Businesses have had to remove customers from their premises after overhearing they just arrived in the NWT.
The whole basis of the GNWT’s Emerging Wisely plan is to gradually relax restrictions within the territory while maintaining strong controls on our border. Basically, if we can prevent the coronavirus from entering the territory, we can worry less about community transmission within it. The whole plan pretty much falls apart if our border controls are lax or are being poorly enforced.
A recent interaction I had with a public health official is telling. He informed me that some people entering the territory are simply lying about their intent to self-isolate, and that once they pass a border checkpoint, they go about their business pretty much as they want. Should others who are in self-isolation hotels in hub communities decide to break their quarantine, there is little monitoring or repercussion.
It wouldn’t seem to be rocket science to figure out how to effectively monitor and enforce the self-isolation requirement. We only have a handful of entry points into the territory. We have a large public government, many of whose employees are assigned to help manage our response to this pandemic.
This includes the much ballyhooed “Enforcement and Compliance Taskforce” who we haven’t heard a peep from in weeks.
Can’t we be checking in on people entering the territory with more regularity to ensure compliance with self-isolation requirements? Why aren’t we tracking incoming vehicles better? How is it that people at self-isolation hotels can pretty much come and go as they please?
If we are committed as a territory to controlling our border, let’s get serious about it. Closing the border has had real negative impacts on us – families have been kept apart and entire business sectors are teetering on the edge. Most of us have accepted this border closure as the lesser of all evils in the face of this pandemic. Let’s not dishonour the sacrifices many people are making to respect the border closure by being slack with our efforts for those who don’t.