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Covid Secretariat winding down in upcoming year

GNWT staffers have said spending for the Covid Secretariat is likely to drop off in the coming year as more of the population gets vaccinated.

The Covid Secretariat was a controversial item when announced in September 2020. 

Initially, it was announced the new government department was set to cost $86.1 million over the next three years and lead to the hiring of around 150 additional government employees.

Those extra employees are the biggest contributor to an overall increase in the government’s payroll, with the 2021 budget showing an increase of almost 300 full-time employees, pushing the territorial government above 6,000 total employees.

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The Covid Secretariat cost the GNWT $30.7 million this year.

The biggest part of the spending, more than half, was taken up by the isolation centres. After urging from MLA’s and the business community, the GNWT started paying only for residents’ isolation stays who had traveled for medical or compassionate reasons.

While they couldn’t say how much money would be saved, finance department staff said that change means the Covid-19 Secretariat’s work is now set to come in slightly under budget for 2020-21.

The GNWT has paused its vaccine rollout as delays in production mean the federal government is sending a smaller than expected shipment of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for the first shipment in February, with a smaller shipment expected again later this month.

That means first doses of the vaccine are being administered to people who had already booked appointments previously, as well as rotational workers at mine sites across the territory.

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However, the GNWT said they would still have 75 per cent of the population vaccinated fully by the end of March.

When this happens, finance department staff said, costs for the Covid Secretariat could be expected to be rolled back.

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