Beginning January 5, the GNWT will no longer be footing the bill for those returning from non-essential travel.
The announcement was made at a press conference Tuesday, where Premier Caroline Cochrane clarified the government will continue to pay isolation costs for medical travel, medically-advised self-isolation, compassionate travel – which includes the funeral or serious illness of an immediate family member – as well as travel for unforeseen or exceptional circumstances that would require a resident of the NWT to leave the territory.
Travellers returning on or before January 4 will continue to be covered for their 14 day isolation. Those returning on or after January 5 will be required to make their own accommodations.
“We’re not promoting for people to leave unless it’s essential,” Cochrane said.
She said “we don’t have the money” to continue to pay all NWT isolation costs and questions “is it fair that people are allowed to travel, to go on a holiday, and then they come back and they get paid from the GNWT.”
The premier said the government wanted to “be compassionate” to those who have already made arrangements to travel south for the holidays.
For most, school and work resume by January 4. That was the defining factor in deciding when the new policy would start, Cochrane said.
While Cochrane said it would be premature to comment on how much the GNWT would save with the new isolation restrictions, she said “a substantial amount of the isolation that is paid for by the government in the Northwest Territories is around leisure travel.”
For isolation costs that the government will continue to cover, Cochrane said the government is looking into expanding their contracts with other hotels, bed and breakfasts, catering services, transportation options, and security.
“When it first hit, we had to scramble,” Cochrane said of the government’s early pandemic decision-making. “We contracted whoever we could call and just made arrangements to get hotels and meals.”
“Now that we’ve had a little bit of time to think back, and now that we’ve worked with the Business Advisory Council and heard the business community we’re putting that out to tender.”
She said 19 tenders have been issued for businesses to share in isolation contracts.
In addition to the changes in GNWT covered isolation, Health Minister Julie Green announced the government would be rolling out check-in calls to replace the current automated system.
“We believe that making a personal connection throughout self isolation will encourage compliance,” she said.
With Covid infection rates rising across the country, the Minister said risks of transmission has never been higher. “Staying put will save lives and keep us on the road to recovery,” she said.
Cochrane admits the changes may risk more breaches in proper self-isolation protocol. She urges residents to share in the responsibility of “keeping people safe,” and reminds isolators that enforcement measures are in place for those who break the rules. If anyone suspects isolators that are “breaking the orders,” Cochrane encourages them to call 8-1-1 or protect NWT.
“We may not get back to you and tell you that we charge someone, but I can assure you that every single call is being investigated,” she said.
The premier, the health minister and chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola all urged residents to continue following public health restrictions though they acknowledge the challenges that accompany them.
“To everyone who is feeling exhausted, we do understand,” Green said. “It’s been a long full year of sacrifices, and we’re still making them and that’s not easy. In these critical moments we need to stick together by staying apart.”