Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speak at a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speak at a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

COVID-19 update stresses vaccination amid plan to lift restrictions

“Vaccination, not border control, is now our safety net.”

Premier Sandy Silver and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley doubled down Wednesday on a commitment to lessen pandemic restrictions.

On an update July 28, Hanley acknowledged that many, particularly First Nations, “felt that the rug was being pulled out from under them” when the government announced many restrictions would be lifted.

“I know our plan to lift restrictions has caused both excitement and concern, as well as confusion,” said Silver.

Silver said the government has an obligation when imposing restrictions on people, to infringe on rights in the least intrusive way. He said restrictions have had impacts on mental health and wellbeing in general and the high vaccination rate among eligable individuals allows for them to be loosened.

Silver said the Yukon government is listening to First Nations, many of whom had leadership challenge the decision to pull back on travel and mask restrictions. Kwanlin Dün Chief Doris Bill has spoken out against the decision to lift CEMA measures. Hanley acknowledged that the Yukon’s COVID-19 wave is “hitting First Nations people hard and disproportionately.”

“Our government is here for you and we are committed to keeping you safe. We share concerns about the impact of COVID-19,” said Silver.

Silver said 86 per cent of Yukon adults are fully vaccinated. More than 60 per cent of youth are fully vaccinated.

“Getting vaccinated is absolutely the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19,” said Silver. “Quite simply, the vaccine saves lives.”

Last week the government announced that restrictions requiring masks and border controls will be lessened. Yukoners are still required to stay home when sick and get tested. At restaurants hand sanitizer should still be available on entry and exit, there is not to be mingling between tables, no dancing and physical distancing is still required when moving around businesses.

Businesses and municipalities can still choose to require mask usage. Hanley said it’s important to continue wearing masks if establishments request it.

Return-to-school guidelines are expected next week.

Silver said as of Aug. 4, as self-isolation and mandatory masking ends, there will no longer be a need to have declaration forms and enforcement officers at border stations at Junction 37 and Watson Lake.

There will also be no CEMA enforcement officers at the Whitehorse airport and the 48-hour limit for transiting through the territory will also end.

“The restrictions are no longer justified and we have a responsibility to lift them,” Silver said, adding that the two weeks of lead time was done to allow time for adjustments. “I want to be clear we are not hanging up our gloves and walking away as if a job is done. We’re transitioning. We recognize that we are not out of this pandemic yet.”

Hanley said the risk of importing cases remains low, although a slight increase is predicted for September and October with the risk of a fourth wave in Canada and the United States. The risk of contracting COVID-19 from inside the territory is now higher than Outside.

“These are models that we will be repeating based on reports of incoming travellers. This is something we can revamp regularly,” Hanley said.

Fully vaccinated Alaskans wanting to travel for non-essential reasons in Canada will be allowed to cross the border Aug. 9, but Canadians are still barred from casual entry into the United States.

Large gatherings are still prohibited under the CEMA. Hanley said risks need to be managed inside the territory, more than Outside. He said the risks of contracting COVID-19 goes up in direct correlation with gathering size.

“There may not be a final ending to this pandemic. No waking up one morning just to find that life is just as it was 16 months ago,” he said. Hanley said the situation has still changed dramatically since the first onset of the virus.

“It is about becoming smarter in how we match measures to risk,” he said. “Vaccination, not border control, is now our safety net.”

Hanley said the risk of importation to the territory are based on people “doing the wrong thing” including heading to house parties and ignoring symptoms.

A public exposure notice has been issued for the July 21 9:30 a.m. Air North flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse.

Since the last COVID-19 press conference on July 25, daily case count updates have averaged around six to 14 each day and reached 89 active cases as of July 28. Clusters of cases have been seen in Watson Lake and rapid testing is taking place.

There are currently 28 active cases in Watson Lake. Hanley said the cases are tied to three main households and said a number of contacts are in self-isolation with more cases expected. A rapid response testing team has been deployed.

The southeast region has a 64 per cent fully vaccinated rate.

Contact Haley Ritchie at