Business closures and travel restrictions are among the most recent measures taken by the Yukon’s chief medical officer to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the Yukon.
“I know there are those who might say we are going too far, there are others who might say this is not far enough,” Dr. Brendan Hanley told a news conference Sunday evening in Whitehorse.
“As always, we try to balance our measures against the risk and be prepared to augment our measures according to our measurement of the risk.”
Hanley communicated the new protection measures alongside Premier Sandy Silver. He noted the actions were planned in advance, and are not in response or relation to the discovery of the Yukon’s first two cases of COVID-19 (see story below).
The new measures will mainly affect local businesses and travellers.
The Yukon’s restaurants must immediately reduce seating capacity to 50 per cent and seat patrons two metres apart.
Starting this Thursday, restaurants should only open for take-out and delivery service.
The territory’s bars were ordered to close until further notice as of Sunday night.
All personal service establishments must close by the end of Wednesday. These include hair salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and massage therapists.
Gatherings of more than 10 people are now banned. Smaller gatherings should ensure space of two metres between people.
Yukoners should not attend gatherings of any size if they have flu-like symptoms, underlying health conditions, work in health care or other essential services, or are over 65 years of age.
Two weeks of self-isolation are now required of all travellers returning to the Yukon, including travellers returning from provinces, other territories and Alaska, by air and by road.
To self-isolate safely, Yukoners should return to their place of residence, assuming they do not share a bathroom.
Those who are unable to safely self-isolate should email firstname.lastname@example.org for information and advice.
Yukoners who have returned from travel within Canada in the past week should also self-isolate if possible, but it is not a requirement, Hanley clarified.
He strongly advises the suspension of all non-essential travel Outside and to rural communities.
All Yukoners who planned to return home in the next 30 days are advised to return now.
The declaration of a public health emergency gives Hanley the power to enforce these new measures, but exact processes of enforcement have not been decided yet.
“It is important … for our territory to first lay down the law, lay down the decrees, even before all the mechanisms are put in place,” Hanley said.
“Such is the speed of this epidemic and such is the need to react.”
Silver said federal officials will meet on Tuesday to discuss appropriate measures for enforcement.
He called the announcement of two confirmed cases “troubling, but not unexpected,” and urged Yukoners to continue social distancing and working from home.
Silver said increased support for businesses and renters is imminent, but did not elaborate on what that will entail.
He added that Yukoners should shop locally and responsibly, without hoarding.
“It is on us, each and every one of us as Yukoners, to take this situation seriously,” Silver said.
Hanley recommended that Yukoners should continue to enjoy the outdoors as a means of exercise, activity, hunting and trapping but not for socialization. While outside with others, it’s important to maintain a two-metre distance.
He added that he has received hundreds of messages in the past several days and has done his best to read them all.
“I recognize the anxiety, even the fear, but this is containable and we can do this … by enduring the hardships that are ahead of us,” he said.
The Yukon’s chief medical officers are already planning for next measures, and more updates will be announced as the situation progresses.
Hanley said the Yukon’s testing rates are higher than those of any jurisdiction in the country, and the backlog in test results is being resolved.
The number of tests will be updated on yukon.ca three times a week. Aggressive testing is key to fighting the virus, Hanley said.
Restrictions at the Yukon-Alaska border were also put in place Friday and will continue over the next 30 days.
Essential supply chains and movement of goods and workers will not be impacted, including trucking of food, fuel and life-saving medicines. Workers in health care, emergency response and mining will be able to cross the border.
Other examples of essential travel permitted across the border include:
• Canadian residents living in Yukon and returning to Canada;
• U.S. citizens seeking medical care; veterinarian care for pets; automobile repair; access to groceries and medicine;
• U.S. citizens returning to work in Canada or to conduct required stewardship to owned property in Canada; and
• ground medical transportation.
The Northwest Territories has closed its borders in the face of the first case of confirmed COVID-19 there.
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