Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola is stressing to residents that even as people are planning on travelling in anticipation of the Christmas season, people should avoid it.
“We have a few critical months ahead of us as we receive more travellers into the territory for the holidays and we are moving into our winter respiratory virus season,” she said.
“Covid activity is at an all-time high in most of Canada. It will only accelerate further in the coming weeks. Models from the federal government say we could see as many as 10,000 cases a day across the country by December.”
Kandola’s weekly address to reporters came within the context of a challenging week for the North which saw the GNWT having to make the “very difficult decision” of having to suspend the travel bubble with Nunavut after an explosion of cases in the Kivalliq region.
She said that the GNWT is following up directly with 380 travellers from Nunavut who arrived in the territory ahead of this week’s public health advisory.
The territorial government also put in place stricter self-isolation measures for returning travellers and their households this week which will make it mandatory for all travellers and their households to self-isolate for 14 days.
Kandola said that there will be more information forthcoming from the department as to what people will be allowed to do when self-isolating, but added people will be able to go for short walks, drive their vehicles, or have people drop off items outside their homes while social distancing.
Public health guidelines
She said there are five things things that people can do to maintain the NWT’s record of low Covid cases this year – the first being to cut-back on non-necessary travel.
“First, let’s commit to avoiding all non-essential travel outside the territory,” she said. “I will echo my colleagues in public health across the country: now is not the time to travel.”
The other recommendations she stressed include continuing to practice health habits like wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing, keeping to smaller crowds and handwashing, staying at home when sick.
The health centre should be contacted for testing whenever one is feeling a little bit sick and people should support one another with “kindness and understanding” during the pandemic.
But travel is and remains the biggest overriding factor that health officials have in mind when addressing Covid in the NWT, she said.
Between 500 and 600 people currently come into the NWT per week.
“We have a population of over 44,000, so putting in the restrictions on that small number of people allows the greater population to have more freedom,” she said.
Reporters pressed Kandola on what travel restrictions might mean for the Christmas holidays, particularly for those who have already booked flights.
“The recommendation to avoid non essential travel has always been in place,” she replied. “Even more so when we started seeing an increase in the number of cases. For sure this is not the time to travel to the US or travel internationally because of number of cases globally.
“If you have booked your travel and you’re wanting to go ahead, then it is really important that you follow the guidelines and restriction measures that are in that jurisdiction. When you return to the NWT, you will be required to isolate for 14 days.”
She said that there have been at least 200 requests for travellers to visit the NWT during the Christmas holidays, however more are anticipated and projections could change due to the public health restrictions in other jurisdictions.
In a Nov. 17 news release, the GNWT stated that it is requiring anyone travelling in the NWT from the Kivalliq region in Nunavut to self-isolate immediately for 14 days upon arrival.
Kandola said that the GNWT is monitoring how the Government of Nunavut manages the outbreak in the small communities of the Kivalliq region, given that those locations have similar health care concerns as many places in the NWT.
Among those concerns include overcrowded housing, fewer direct health care resources and mental health challenges due to self-isolation, she said.
The focus of the impact on small communities had been top of mind when the pandemic came to the NWT last March, she pointed out.
“We’re monitoring closely the situation because we know that the same social determinants of health, the same housing density and overcrowding, and the social nature of small communities puts our small communities at risk,” she said. “This is the whole reason back on March 21 we developed the first travel restrictions and requiring people to self-isolate in the four hubs before they go on to their communities.
“It really solidifies our decision previously.”