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Yukon government ending state of emergency, CEMA enforcement

Enforcement measures will now transition to the Public Health and Safety Act.
Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Catherine Elliott announced July 21 that a number of COVID-19 restrictions, including mandatory mask usage, will be lifted on Aug. 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

Despite growing concerns about a fourth wave of COVID-19 in the provinces, the Yukon’s state of emergency will end at midnight on Aug. 25.

“This is a good day and one we have long been waiting for,” said acting Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Catherine Elliott.

“Be kind and patient and help each other as we walk this path together.”

It has been nearly 17 months since the Yukon went into a state of emergency March 27, 2020.

The change brought in new enforcement powers under the Civil Emergency Measures Act. Now that it has ended, there will no longer be legal limits on gathering sizes, enforcement for mask usage or requirements to self-isolate after travel.

“We will continue to follow the recommendations of the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health,” said Premier Sandy Silver. “Ending the state of emergency does not leave us without tools to manage the pandemic in the Yukon. The availability of vaccines has completely changed the landscape and significantly changed the risks we are seeing.”

Silver acknowledged that revoking the act is exciting, but also an “anxious day for many folks.”

Hospitalizations have doubled in two weeks in British Columbia as the province deals with a fourth wave and the Delta variant. Mandatory masking has been brought back and the province is bringing in a strict vaccine passport system.

The Yukon saw its first Delta cases earlier this month. Elliott said the territory will respond to it’s own risk level and epidemiology, but high vaccine levels will help manage cases.

“We will respond as things change in the Yukon,” she said.

“Blanket public health measures are no longer the best to protect the Yukon’s population,” said Silver. “We’re moving to a more targeted approach.”

“If we have to go back, then we have to go back,” he said.

Enforcement for COVID-19 cases will now be done under the Public Health and Safety Act. Elliott said education and support is preferred, but they will use the act to compel individuals to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID-19.

Elliott said the legal document is too complex to summarize during the press release, but said there are “many levers” in order to control an outbreak.

Silver said the government is currently developing official proof of vaccine identification that will have features to prevent forgery and be verifiable. Individuals can also request their paper vaccination records.

The next COVID-19 update will be in two weeks.

New cases and Ross River outbreak

Since Aug. 24 there have been two new positive cases. The current case count is 36 active cases, with one new public exposure notice released for a flight from Edmonton to Whitehorse.

The Air North flight 4N702 on Saturday, Aug. 21 departed at 10:05 a.m. and arrived in the Yukon at 1:25 p.m. The alert is low risk, but people on the flight are asked to self-monitor for 14 days. If symptoms appear they should self-isolate and get tested.

Elliott said the situation in Ross River is now stable. On Aug. 20 the Ross River Dena Council released an update on the outbreak, noting that the community had 40 per cent of positive COVID-19 cases in the territory.

In their update, the Council said they requested a rapid test clinic from the Yukon Government on July 31, but the call was not answered until Aug. 17. In addition, they said factors influencing the spread include lack of housing, internet access and lack of RCMP support for enforcement.

During the press conference on Aug. 25, Elliott said the government is working closely with the community to control the spread.

Silver said he met with Chief Jack Caesar on Aug. 24. He acknowledged that there will always be a level of distrust of colonial governments in many of the Yukon’s communities.

“Our goal when it comes to COVID will always be that vaccines are present and encourage, not only through our own government, but leadership in the communities, to implore people to get vaccinated. We’ll continue to monitor social issues in the communities, knowing that there isn’t one solution,” said Silver.

Contact Haley Ritchie at