Organizers behind Snowking’s Winter Festival and the Long John Jamboree, two of Yellowknife’s biggest and most beloved seasonal events, say they have no plans of cancelling festivities over mounting coronavirus concerns.
In an email to NNSL Media, Snowking board director Laura Busch said the month-long festival – a huge draw for tourists that’s set to run to the end of March – will forge ahead as planned, based on current recommendations from the territory’s top doctor, Kami Kandola.
“Organizers are taking our direction (on) how to prepare for and respond to the threat of coronavirus from the Chief Public Health Officer of the NWT,” stated Busch.
Currently, Kandola “does not recommend the cancellation of public events, gatherings or field/athletic trips,” states the health department’s website.
There have been no cases of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, in any of the territories.
Growing concerns about the virus’ threat, however, pushed organizers in Whitehorse to pull the plug on the Arctic Winter Games. The unprecedented move was based on a recommendation from Yukon’s chief health officer, Catherine Elliott. With international athletes set to live and compete in close quarters at the games, Elliott said the call was made out of an “abundance of caution.”
With no COVID-19 cases in the NWT, Busch said “what could or might happen if the virus reaches our territory remains speculation.”
The board will be monitoring recommendations from the territory government and will “respond accordingly,” she added.
Long John Jamboree organizers plan on doing the same.
“At this time, our plans are to move ahead and hold the festival (as scheduled, from March 27 to March 29),” stated Marcia Smith, Long John Jamboree Society director at large, in an email to NNSL Media Tuesday.
“Any changes will be based on the recommendations of (Kandola),” wrote Smith.
According to Smith, Kandola told her and organizers she’s not recommending the event’s cancellation because of several mitigating risk factors: it’s held outdoors; it attracts a younger, less vulnerable age group; and the event features limited sponsors and hosts from outside of Yellowknife.
Smith said the festival will be beefing up health safety measures.
Guests can expect to see high-visibility handwashing posters, while food vendors will be required to have hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes on hand for patrons.
Staff and volunteers feeling unwell will be asked not to attend, and organizers plan on creating more space “between people in indoor tents to avoid crowding,” as per Kandola’s recommendations.
“The entire board of directors of the Long John Jamboree Society are aware of the issues surrounding the coronavirus and will follow the situation closely, stay in close contact with (Kandola) and be ready to incorporate any further recommendations she makes regarding changes in safety precautions or the festival itself,” stated Smith.
COVID-19 fears have led to sporting and cultural festivals across Canada being nixed in recent days, although the annual Juno Awards is set to go ahead in Saskatoon, where no cases have been recorded.
Meanwhile, south of the border, concerns have disrupted two massive musical festivals.
Coachella, set to kick off in April in California, has been postponed. Texas’ South by Southwest (SXSW) musical festival was axed completely.
The U.S. has recorded 822 COVID-19 cases to Canada’s 80, according to the World Health Organization.
While Canada’s first COVID-19 death was recorded in B.C. on Monday, risks for NWT residents currently “remains low,” according to the territory’s Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.