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NWT government bans all indoor gatherings; forces some businesses to close

All indoor gatherings will be be banned effective tomorrow, the Government of the Northwest Territories announced on Friday.

Anything that brings together people who don’t live together –- including things like house parties, funerals, meetings, feasts, bonfires, church services or team sports -- will no longer be permitted.

This is to take effect on Saturday, April 11 at noon.

Bans on indoor gatherings and added measures including closures on some businesses were introduced on Friday to combat the spread of the coronavirus into the NWT. From left are Katrina Nokleby, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, Dr. Kami Kandola, Chief Public Health Officer, and Diane Thom, Minister of Health and Social Services.

A news conference was held Friday featuring Dr. Kami Kandola, Chief Public Health Officer, Katrina Nokleby, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Infrastructure, and Diane Thom, Minister of Health and Social Services. The three introduced added emergency measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that will take effect this weekend with legal enforcement for those that do not comply.

Earlier in the week, the GNWT announced its intent to back up its orders with an NWT Compliance Taskforce. With Friday's emergency measures, officials threatened that it will have the power to "track down and investigate complaints" concerning violations of the Public Health Act or directives made by Kandola.

"Our message has always been that public health measures will get stronger before they let up," Thom said. "With the leadership of the Chief Public Health Officer we have moved forward with some of the most aggressive policies in the country.

"While we provided advice weeks ago, we are confident that it is necessary to put legal weight behind these measures to respond to this unprecedented threat."

Kandola also ordered any outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people banned.

According to a news release issued Friday, a gathering is defined as "a group of people of any size who do not live in the same household who are not able to maintain social (physical) distance indoors."

Dr. Kami Kandola, Chief Public Health Officer has ordered a ban on all indoor and outdoor gatherings with 10 or more people. NWT residents to continue practicing public health precautions including retaining social distancing of at least six metres, regular hand washing and self-isolating.

Kandola said the most important thing residents can do to stem the spread of Covid-19 is to practice social distancing, or staying six feet apart from others.

"We all need to keep our social circles small," she said. "I recognize this is going to be a huge adjustment for (NWT residents). It is not lost on me that this will affect mental health."

She said people should get creative, pointing to churches holding online sermons, groups of Facebook and virtual kitchen parties.

"Go outdoors," she said. "This is a healthy way to decrease stress."

"We are in this for months, not weeks, and if we're not all on the same team, it could be much longer," Thom said.

To those who ignore these new orders and measures, Thom said: "We're coming for you."

Katrina Nokleby, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment joined Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola, and Dian Thom, Minister of Health and Social Services for a news conference Friday afternoon.

Protecting resource sector and private companies 

Friday's measures also included that some businesses will be ordered closed, and strict measures are to be implemented on mining and oil and gas sites.

This includes screening of transient workers when they arrive in the NWT and when they depart, and follow-up calls with those that leave the territory, according to Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Katrina Nokleby said.

Nokleby added that southern workers would be segregated from Northern workers where possible.

This order came into effect Friday, April 10 at noon.

"The situation is evolving quickly across Canada which is why these additional measures announced today are needed," Nokleby said. "By implementing these measures we continue to ensure the right precautions are in place from the risks of having southern transient workers from entering the territory."

As of the end of day Friday, there were five confirmed cases in the territory with 1,397 completed tests. Of those there were 1,392 that were negative, according to the Department of Health and Social Services website. 

To date are also 77 tests pending and one recovered case.