In a press conference afternoon May 12th, the Government of the Northwest Territories revealed its “charted path” to emerging from the current public health measures implemented to contain COVID-19 in the NWT and the easing could start within a week.

The plan, aptly named “Emerging Wisely” outlines where the territory is today, how it got there, and a five-part approach for gradually moving the territory from the containment measures in-place today. 

Through four phases of eased measures, the territorial government aims to progressively-ease restrictions on people, businesses, and activities important to residents.

Some critical measures will need to be in place until a vaccine or effective treatment is widely available to NWT residents. pandemic is over, including:

  • Travel restrictions at the border
  • Self-isolation for returning travelers
  • Robust testing

There may also be a need to re-impose restrictions when COVID-19 risk levels increase. 

The three criteria for considering a return to containment measures are:

  • Travel prohibition and restriction failures
  • Loss of contact tracing abilities
  • Health system breakdown

These restrictions may not need to be the same for all communities and regions. 

Where community spread remains limited, regional or community-specific restrictions will be considered so areas considered to be at lower-risk may maintain their freedoms while outbreaks are controlled.

The phases are as follows:

Current state: Containment 

Assuming the situation remains stable to begin easing restrictions, NWT must have zero non-imported cases until at least May 15th, that’s two incubation periods, or 28 days, since the test confirming the last identified case in the NWT had been recovered. 

  • This time period provides strong evidence that no cases have been detected, and any outstanding tests will have returned which may have indicated community spread related to the now-recovered case.

Relaxing Phase 1: “First steps” — Mid to late May

This plan introduces the Friendship Circle, a new model for indoor visitation.

Assuming all essential steps have been successfully implemented and there is no evidence of community spread within the territory through May 15th as well as the public following health orders.

  • Each household can have up to five people they don’t live with come over and be inside their house. 
    • “Friendship circles” should be kept as small as possible and still keep physical distance as much as you can.
    • A maximum of 10 people in total can be inside the house at any time. This is required.
    • It’s strongly recommended that in your household, you keep a circle of friends as small as possible. 
    • It’s also strongly recommended that you keep a distance of two metres in your house as much as you can to protect each other.
    • If you’re having someone over who’s older, has a weaker immune system, or has an illness already, we strongly recommend your house doesn’t have anyone else over while they are.
    • General message to NWT residents being: use your common sense to protect each other while we all get some relief from being cooped up.
  • Personal outdoor get-togethers of 25 or less are allowed. 
  • Some businesses and organizations would be allowed to open with capacity and other restrictions in place. 
    • Personal services, museums and art galleries, bottle depots, personal training at gyms and fitness centres.
  • Specific types of mass gatherings will be allowed with capacity and other restrictions in place. 
    • Farmer’s markets, campgrounds, recreational facilities, libraries, golf courses, beaches, boat launches, outdoor fields, and playgrounds.
  • Schools, except colleges, adult learning, and trade schools, may open with capacity and other restrictions in place.

Relaxing Phase 2: “Next steps” — Mid to late June

If the NWT sees limited or no community spread, imported and contained cases only, maintained strong contact tracing, and also depending on the ability of businesses and gathering places to enforce social distancing.

  • Personal outdoor get-togethers of 50 or less are allowed.
  • Indoor sports and day programming are allowed. 
  • More business will be allowed to open with capacity and other restrictions in place. 
    • Movie theatres and theatres, dine-in restaurants (limited capacity), fitness classes.
  • Organized outdoor activities will be allowed. 
    • Campground limitations will ease. 
  • Government offices may open to the public. 
  • Community and youth centres may open. 
    • Pools open for instructor certification.

Relaxing Phase 3: “Careful steps past the second wave” — to be determined

Phase three begins when a robust and rapid-testing strategy is ready as well as the arrival and passing of a second surge of infections in Canada and the United States.

  • Personal outdoor get-togethers have no participation limits.
  • Additional business will be allowed to open.
  • Outdoor gatherings have no participation limits. 
    • Pools open to the public. 
    • Gymnastics open. 
    • Choirs and band classes may begin running.
  • Colleges, adult classes and trade schools open.

Final Measures Lifted

Finally, if a vaccine for COVID-19 has been approved and produced and a successful vaccination program has been implemented for at risk populations.

And assuming an effective treatment is approved and most of the NWT’s population can get it…

Life goes back to normal-ish. According to medical officers arounds the country, there is no doubt certain practices (hand washing, respiratory hygiene) will be kept far longer than public health measures will be around. 

The plan was developed through an exhaustive risk assessment completed by the Department of Health and Social Services,based on balancing personal freedoms with the need to manage the public health crisis through 2-3 waves throughout Canada and the United States.

The public health risk assessment provides information for organizations on what steps are needed to get ready to re-open. You can find a copy of the document by clicking on either link.

The Worker’s Safety and Compensation Commission has guidance and advice to be provided to those looking for information on how to implement these requirements in their workplaces and are available to answer questions about workplaces. 

Additional questions on complying with the requirements of these phases should be sent to protectnwt@gov.nt.ca.