Crystal Schick/Yukon News Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, announces the territory’s first two cases of COVID-19 during a press conference in Whitehorse on March 22.

UPDATED: Yukon confirms first two cases of COVID-19, introduces new restrictions

The territory’s first two cases are a couple who travelled to the U.S. for a conference.

The Yukon has confirmed its first two cases of COVID-19.

The two people are a Whitehorse couple who travelled to the United States for a conference where another attendee was later confirmed to have the disease, Dr. Brendan Hanley, the territory’s chief medical officer of health, said at a press conference in Whitehorse the evening of March 22.

They self-isolated after returning home last week and were tested after developing symptoms. The results came back within three days.

Hanley said officials learned of the positive test results the afternoon of March 22.

The couple, he said, were asymptomatic while travelling and did everything they were supposed to, limiting the possibility of the disease spreading locally. Their conditions are not serious and they are recovering while continuing to self-isolate. Officials are not identifying the flight the couple flew in on nor doing “contact-tracing” for other passengers on the flight as the couple did not have symptoms while in transit.

Hanley acknowledged that the news of the Yukon’s first cases was “momentous,” but that officials had expected and prepared for COVID-19 to enter the territory this way. The risk to Yukoners, he said, remains unchanged.

Hanley also announced a new fleet of measures meant to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, emphasizing that officials had already planned to introduce them before they knew of the confirmed cases.

Yukoners are now being strongly advised to suspend all non-essential travel Outside, including to other parts of Canada and Alaska. All Yukoners currently Outside with plans to return home in the next 30 days are also being advised to return home now.

Effectively immediately, all Yukoners returning from anywhere outside the territory, by road or air, will also be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Hanley said this will be monitored, although specifics on how that monitoring will happen, or how the requirement will be enforced, have not been fully hashed out yet.

People who cannot self-isolate at home are asked to email for help, and people who develop symptoms such as a fever, cough or difficulty breathing are asked to call 811 for information on how to get tested.

The Yukon has high rates of testing, Hanley said, higher than any other jurisdiction in the country. Results are now coming in faster than before, and because of that, he said he was hopeful the Yukon’s “backlog” of tests would be cleared this week.

While Yukoners currently Outside will continue to be able to return home, Premier Sandy Silver, who was also at the press conference, said the territory is now barring entry to non-residents travelling to the Yukon for non-essential reasons, such as tourists or people visiting family members.

Within the territory, Yukoners are being asked to suspend all non-essential travel to rural communities, which have more limited medical resources.

Tight restrictions will also be put in place on businesses.

After closing time on March 22, bars will remain closed until further notice.

Restaurants will be allowed to remain open, but effective immediately, must reduce seating capacity by 50 per cent and space patrons at least two metres apart. They must also transition to take-out or delivery only beginning on March 26.

All “personal service establishments,” including hair salons, tattoo parlors and massage therapy businesses must close, and remain closed until further notice, by the end of the day on March 25.

Silver acknowledged entrepreneurs and small businesses will be concerned with these rules. He said help will be coming for them as well as people worried about losing their homes, and that the Yukon government is also moving on preventing evictions related to COVID-19.

The guidelines for gatherings have also been narrowed. Gatherings of more than 10 people are now banned, and small gatherings should ensure at least two metres of spacing between attendees. Yukoners with any flu-like symptoms, who are over the age of 65 or have an underlying health condition, or who work in health care, a health care facility or any other essential service are advised to not attend gatherings at all.

Hanley and Silver both urged Yukoners to do their part to “flatten the curve” by respecting social distancing, following proper hand-washing procedures and seeking out reliable information and advice.

“You cannot wash your hands too many times,” Silver said, and also asked Yukoners to shop locally and responsibly without hoarding.

How each jurisdiction handles COVID-19 will differ, but Silver said the Yukon has the advantage of being one of the last to see cases and can learn from what’s working in other places while also taking local factors into account.

All the measures now in place are going to help “reduce the curve,” he said, and next steps will depend on how diligent people are with following the current measures.

“Please Yukoners, follow these instructions,” he said, adding that people should check in on their friends and family and reach out if they need help.

“I don’t need to remind anybody here, but Yukoners are strong people,” he said later. “We will get through this by supporting each other and by working together.”

More to come.

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