GNWT monitoring COVID-19 situation in Yukon, could review travel exemptions

The Dempster Highway pictured in August, 2016. (Supplied by the Department of Transportation.)
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The GNWT is warning residents to be wary of travel to Yukon, as COVID-19 cases pick up in the territory.

Travellers from the Yukon have been able to get travel exemptions since the beginning of June.

But that was before six confirmed cases were reported in Whitehorse, with two more probable cases waiting to be confirmed. Three hospitalizations have also been reported.

A COVID-19 outbreak has also been declared at Yukon’s Eagle Gold Mine. Three workers at the site have tested positive for COVID-19.

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Speaking in a press conference on Wednesday, NWT’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said the criteria set out by the GNWT for Yukon travellers to be granted an exemption should minimize the risk of importing COVID-19.

“This allows us to recognize that some cases are maybe community transmission in some communities,” she said, “but someone may come from a community with no cases, no transmission, no risk so that we can still allow people from Yukon and Nunavut to come into NWT and not have to self isolate.”

But in a statement sent out after that press conference, Kandola said the GNWT is monitoring Yukon’s COVID-19 situation and may review the exemptions policy if necessary.

There are a number of requirements travellers from Yukon have to meet, including receiving an approved exemption letter from the Chief Public Health Officer before travelling.

Travellers also must not have travelled from another area of the country for at least 14 days before entering the NWT. They must also not be displaying symptoms of COVID-19.

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They also won’t be granted an exemption if they are coming from a community with travel restrictions in place, or one that’s experiencing community transmission of COVID-19, or if they’re a worker at a Yukon camp or work site that has out-of-territory workers.   

Travellers from Nunavut can also access travel exemptions.

The GNWT says it won’t revoke the travel exemptions yet, but said they may require testing for people travelling from impacted communities.

Nunavut’s travel bubble — which allowed free movement without needing to apply for an exemption — with the Northwest Territories was suspended back in November after an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred in several Nunavut communities.

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Kandola has previously ruled out a travel bubble with Yukon, because of its travel agreement with B.C., which has higher COVID-19 case totals.

She added if the COVID-19 situation in Yukon continues to worsen, the GNWT could pause the granting of travel exemptions to travellers from Yukon.

That would be a blow to rural residents, who only recently were granted exemptions to be able to drive the Dempster Highway, which travels through Yukon and is the only road connection to the Beaufort Delta.

Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semller had called repeatedly on the GNWT to make changes to allow travel across the Yukon border for residents who live in the Beaufort Delta. 

“The Dempster Highway is the only way in and out of the Beaufort Delta by road,” she said.

“It’s our lifeline to the rest of Canada. Yes, we are NWT residents, but there is no way for us to get to the rest of the NWT unless we drive through Yukon, BC, and Alberta at this time. Or if we can afford to pay the high cost of an airline ticket, and many cannot.”

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