NWT Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola made several recommendations to air-travellers Saturday, asking people to avoid discretionary travel, but there were still a few people getting onto planes at the Yellowknife Airport on Sunday.
Reaction to mounting coronavirus fears by Sunday travellers were mixed but it was clear they were conscious of the potential spread of coronavirus globally and in the North.
Bob Ladd, from Clinton, Ont., was heading with his two teenagers via London, Ont. and the Calgary airport to visit his brother for the first time in Kugluktuk.
Although he spent much of Sunday morning frustrated about a weather delay in Cambridge Bay, he said he thinks the whole situation is overblown. He said panic shopping in stores and and what he said were the unnecessary closures of the NHL, NBA and Ontario minor hockey leagues have been too much.
“It is way overblown,” he said. “They’ve wiped out our stores in Ontario of toilet paper. For what reason is beyond me. Now there are people trying to sell it online for (more than it is worth).
“They’ve shut down the world.”
Ladd said he was only aware of three positively confirmed cases in the area of the country where he is from.
“We are talking 0.000001 per cent of the population, which is less than those who get the common flu every year,” he said.
“I just see it all over Facebook and I think it is a joke.”
Midway through his destination at the Yellowknife Airport, Ladd had already come through the airports of London, Ont. and Calgary. He said he hadn’t really noticed much difference in terms of lower people traffic or increased sanitizing stations due to public health concerns. But he wasn’t changing his own habits.
“I don’t change anything I do. I clean my hands when I clean my hands. I never even saw one person coughing,” he said, adding that some of the shopping behaviours of people, especially involving toilet paper, have been extreme.
“I don’t understand the toilet paper. It is becoming a big joke. When you have the flu, you need Kleenex, you don’t need toilet paper. It doesn’t give you the runs.”
Others at the airport on Sunday morning were less sure.
John Kaufmann and Leo Flynn, both Arctic Co-op managers in Kugaaruk and Gjoa Haven, respectively were both flying through the Yellowknife airport following a 10-day store managers’ conference in Winnipeg.
Kaufmann said coming through the Winnipeg and Calgary airports there were evidently emptier restaurants and flights that he thought due to social distancing from coronavirus.
“The plane from Winnipeg to Calgary was less than half full. In Winnipeg, the restaurants where we were at were less than half full.
“It is a little bit disconcerting.”
Flynn added that he noticed it especially at the Winnipeg airport.
“There was no one around on Saturday morning until about 12 at the airport and then it started picking up,” he said.
Flynn said he was still satisfied with the measures airport officials and the general public were taking with the potential spread of the virus.
“As it comes to travelling, I have no issues with (doing) it,” he said regarding protections from the disease on his trip. “People are being safer in my opinion. People are using hand sanitizer more. They are being more aware of their surroundings.
“I was just in the restaurant (at the Yellowknife Airport) and they had hand sanitizer to use and there are hand sanitizers at the check-in counters. So to me, it is just up to each individual to use it.”
Kaufmann said as a longtime resident of Kugaaruk, he is concerned about the impacts the spread of the virus could have on his community due to its small size.
“The world has changed in two weeks, bottom line,” he said. “Our worst fear is if it hits the small communities because there are no places of isolation to go in a small community. Nursing stations are small and houses are crowded. So that would be a tough thing to deal with in a small community.
“The health system couldn’t handle it. They could fly in some doctors or extra nurses, but it isn’t that. People are vulnerable because they live in such close quarters. So they catch everything. Even a normal flu when it goes through town can be tough to deal with.
“So if it gets worse, it is worrisome.”
As store managers, Kaufmann and Flynn said they were concerned about product reaching their stores from the Winnipeg central office if a lockdown were to take place.
“We were told they have a plan in place regardless of what happens in Winnipeg,” Kaufmann said. “If (Winnipeg headquarter staff) all have to work from home, they have looked at how do they get product to us, how do they serve our needs. So they have a plan in place in a worst-case scenario.”
Another traveller heading to Gjoa Haven from Victoria, B.C., Julia Smythe said she has been a little more careful with her travels but is not as concerned as if it had been an international flight.
“It has not (impacted my plans),” she said of the coronavirus. “It made me more nervous and aware of the need to be more careful. With domestic travel, it seems to be fine but obviously international travel I wouldn’t do it.”
Still, Smythe said she was conscious that she had travelled through Vancouver International Airport, a point of entry for many people coming into Canada.
“I found (hand sanitizers and safety precautions) have been available and I know that someone I talked to at the Vancouver airport yesterday have said they are cleaning a lot and sanitizing all surfaces,” she said. “The airport is probably the worst place to come through especially considering anyone coming international would come through the Vancouver airport.”