GN announces schedule to lift COVID-19 restrictions
Goal is to end public health emergency on April 11
The Government of Nunavut announced a plan on Wednesday to lift COVID-19 restrictions across the territory, starting next week.
Restrictions will ease in phases starting March 14 and the territorial public health emergency is scheduled to end on April 11, Nunavut’s chief public officer, Dr. Michael Patterson announced on Wednesday, speaking to reporters at the legislative assembly.
The end result will mean masks won’t be mandatory and people who have COVID-19 symptoms will not need to isolate.
“After two years of dealing with this pandemic, it’s time to begin easing public health restrictions,” Patterson said.
The plan is dependent on how COVID-19 outbreaks in communities progress during the rest of March and the beginning of April, as restrictions ease every two weeks.
But Patterson said that even if some communities are experiencing worse outbreaks than others, the Nunavut government could use local states of emergency to carry on public health restrictions, rather than a territory-wide one.
The government will stop announcing when a community gets a new case and active case counts will be updated once a week. This is because as restrictions ease, the government will start treating COVID-19 like other infectious diseases, which are not publicly tracked.
While there is a federal mandate on testing and travel, the isolation hubs in the south will remain in place for medical travellers who contract COVID-19 while outside the territory.
The decision to start loosening restrictions is based on a number of factors, Patterson said. With vaccination available to residents aged five and older, 87 per cent of Nunavut’s population have now had the chance to get their shots. Treatment and testing are now also available in all communities.
On March 14, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, Igloolik and Kugaaruk will be allowed to have outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people and indoor gatherings of 10 people plus household members.
Restaurants can open to 25 per cent capacity or 25 people, whichever is less, with no singing. Places of worship can open to 50 people, or 25 per cent capacity, also with no singing allowed.
In all other communities, indoor gatherings can increase to 15 people plus household members, outdoor gatherings can increase to 100 people and public indoor gatherings can increase to 50 people or 50 per cent capacity.
Restaurants and places of worship can open to 50 people or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less, with singing and dancing allowed.
On March 28, the government is planning to loosen the rules further: high-risk contacts who do not have COVID-19 symptoms will no longer have to isolate.
“These changes do not mean that COVID-19 is gone. COVID-19 is almost certainly here to stay,” Patterson said, adding that Nunavummiut should still wear masks to reduce transmission, even if it’s not mandated.
Premier P.J. Akeeagok thanked Patterson and front-line health workers for keeping the territory safe since the beginning of the pandemic.
“In the past two years, Dr. Patterson has been at the helm day and night, during the holidays as well as the weekends to help protect Nunavummiut against COVID-19,” Akeeagok said in response to the announcement.
“[Patterson] and his whole team are the reason why Nunavut is COVID-free for so long.”
Health Minister John Main said Nunavumiut are feeling “COVID fatigue” but need to keep isolating, self-testing, getting vaccinated and wearing masks.
“Even without the public health measures, we should all continue to do what’s necessary to protect our communities,” Main said.
As of Wednesday, the territory has 472 active cases of COVID-19. There have been one death and 33 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 since Dec. 21, 2021.
Communities with the highest active case counts include Iqaluit with 111 cases, Kugaaruk with 56, Gjoa Haven and Rankin Inlet with 44, Naujaat with 37, and Pond Inlet with 31.
– With files from Mélanie Ritchot