The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce is calling on the GNWT to rethink aspects of the self-isolation policy for people entering the territory, saying that it raises the costs of doing business and potentially deters future business.
In a Wednesday letter to Russell Neudorf, the head of the Covid-19 Coordinating Secretariat, the Chamber said the policy puts pressure on businesses to shoulder the burden of self-isolation.
“The problem with (the policy) is that it deters companies from bringing workers in because it’s complicated and expensive,” Tim Syer, president of the Yellowknife Chamber. “I worry it’s discouraging people from moving up here to work. (With) the prospective employees looking to come in, who might be turned off by the idea of self-isolation, or worrying about people bringing them groceries while they self-isolate. Maybe they would just choose to go work somewhere else? It deters labour mobility.”
“(Many) businesses recruit from down south. For example, accountants, who rely on a mobile workforce, and contractors and skilled tradespeople – not many are from here. If you start imposing these restrictions and costs on labour mobility then it deters it and it makes it harder for businesses to work efficiently. There are going to be fewer mechanics and skilled people coming in and it will drive up the costs of doing business.”
The Chamber recommends the GNWT end cost-coverage for isolation centre stays that are not required as a matter of territorial government policy or medical recommendation.
“(So) if the GNWT is going to pay for people entering after discretionary travel, then why not pay costs for businesses? It seems unfair,” said Syer.
In a separate letter on Tuesday to Premier Caroline Cochrane, the Chamber asks the GNWT to clarify Covid mitigation rules for businesses, rather than having them submit applications to make exceptions, especially as businesses will look at catering larger indoor events for the holiday season.
“We’re asking for more consistency in how those rules are applied. If you go to restaurants, some staff members are wearing masks and some aren’t, some (places) have several washrooms and some have only one. The inconsistency in the rules is frustrating,” Syer said.
“It doesn’t make sense for a business owner if the rules are different for other businesses. Maybe it’s a case where ProtectNWT would say ‘no two businesses are the same and we have to apply the rules accordingly.’ That’s fine, but we want to see the rationale behind that. What’s the checklist the inspectors are working from in order to see how those rules are applied? Businesses should be able to pick up a guidance document and see how the rules will apply to them.”
Syer said the Chamber has not yet received responses to the two letters.
Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the Covid Secretariat, said the organization and the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer are currently examining the costs associated with the isolation centres and working on options to reduce those costs.
Some options include changes to GNWT policy on paying for residents’ stays in isolation centres; new contracts for isolation centres through a request for proposals, which is expected to be issued in the next few days; and revised arrangements with the private sector providing additional services for isolation centres.