The NWT has been leading the way nationally in the fight against Covid-19. We were one of the first jurisdictions to institute drastic measures such as border closures and mandatory self-isolation.
We are first among all provinces and territories in per capita testing by a large margin. And most significantly, we are the first jurisdiction in the country that can declare that all active cases of Covid-19 have now recovered. Bold leadership, a co-operative population, and a little bit of luck have got us to where we are now.
While the top priority of our senior officials remains the prevention of further cases of Covid-19 in the territory, our Chief Medical Health Officer must also start to boldly think about how the restrictions on our way of life might be eased over time.
While a vaccine is projected to be available sometime in mid- to late-2021, waiting to ease current restrictions until then is not possible. This would have far too devastating an impact on our mental and physical well-being, our families, and our economy which is in the early stages of collapse with the cancellation of the 2020 tourism season and the closure of the Ekati diamond mine.
So if we can’t wait for a vaccine, what can we do?
One idea that may be the best option over the coming months is what you could call #FortressNWT. Our isolation as a territory plays to our advantage in this scenario, as we have only a handful of entry points by road or air. To date, it is likely that Covid-19 has been limited in the NWT primarily due to the closure of these entry points to most travellers, and less so to physical distancing measures within the territory itself.
#FortressNWT would involve even stricter controlling, testing, and/or quarantining of traffic into the territory in order to eliminate contact between incoming travellers and residents. If this could be done, and there remains no community transmission inside the territory, we should be able to go about our lives with much less restrictions than we have now, as we would have much greater confidence that our friends, families, and co-workers are virus-free.
Moving forward with #FortressNWT would require mandatory testing and strict quarantine measures for essential medical, supply-chain, mine, and infrastructure workers that must come into the territory. This can be done, as the company Agnico Eagle is proving at its remote Meliadine and Meadowbank mines in Nunavut.
There, on-site Covid-19 testing can deliver results in a few hours, and to date over 850 employees have been tested. There have been no positive tests to date, and with that reassurance the company can more comfortably go about something that looks like business as usual.
Senior GNWT officials tell us that we are a few weeks away from having rapid testing capabilities in the NWT. It is unlikely we will see something like #FortressNWT here until such time as this testing is readily available.
However, if we were to get some clearer signals from senior officials that this is the way forward, it might make the next few weeks of our confinement that much more tolerable.
In the meantime, we can learn from other northern regions that are already breaking trail for us. In Greenland, an isolated jurisdiction like the NWT with a few travel-related Covid-19 cases and no evidence of community transmission, very strict restrictions on incoming travel have been put in place.
At the same time, facilities and services are being carefully reopened. Retail stores and restaurants in the capital of Nuuk will be doing business with some limitations, and students will be returning to school on staggered schedules.
I hope that over the next few weeks news of healthy Greenlanders going about their lives with fresh salon haircuts will inspire bold action here towards something like #FortressNWT.