The GNWT has issued tenders for the isolation centres, as they make cuts to who can have their isolation periods paid for.
Premier Caroline Cochrane said in a press conference on Tuesday that the territory was aiming to improve the effectiveness of pandemic services, and to “ensure we are accountable for how we pay for those services.”
That means the government is asking for proposals for businesses to provide most services required for the running of isolation centres, including the hotel rooms, the food and security.
On Tuesday, the GNWT announced they would no longer be paying for the isolation stays of people who travel for discretionary reasons — anything other than for medical appointments, an enforced self-isolation because of a COVID-19 exposure or to visit a sick or dying family member.
This decision came after the GNWT released a feedback report — based on consultations with eleven Indigenous governments, 21 communities, and the territory’s Business Advisory Council — which found a majority of respondents were against paying for everyone’s self-isolation stays.
Cochrane said feedback received from the business community and the Business Advisory Council also said the GNWT could further cut costs and provide more support to the business community by changing how they procure services for the isolation centres.
“When it first hit, though, we had to scramble,” said Cochrane. “So we contacted whoever we could call, and we just made arrangements to get hotels and to get meals done.”
The change could have come sooner, says NWT Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Renée Comeau.
“We are also optimistic that the requirements of the isolation centre rooms has a wider lens on the type and size of accommodations that can be considered so that more businesses have the opportunity to recoup lost revenue over the last year,” she said in an email.
The tender process is intended to expand the number of businesses who are offering services for the isolation centres. One example Cochrane mentioned is bed and breakfasts being able to become isolation centres as well as hotels.
“We’re not able to bring in tourists from outside of the NWT, so creating opportunities for those businesses to do business with the government by providing accommodation through alternative isolation spaces — I think it makes a lot of sense,” said Deneen Everett, Executive Director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.
Tourism businesses have been been hit hard by the pandemic.
“Our goal is to try and help as many businesses as possible to make it through the pandemic so that they can continue to provide the services,” said Cochrane. “That is the right way to be able to spread the money around and to be able to do every business to be able to get a contract.”
Also among the services being tendered by the GNWT is security services to monitor people staying in the isolation centres, and ensure everyone is following the COVID-19 guidelines.
“We’ve had a lot of calls from people saying, you know, people are checking into isolation centres and they party,” Cochrane said. “So I hate to say that we have to put security in. But that is what is needed.”