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More COVID-19 rapid tests available and limits on gatherings eased

CMOH said the territory may be reaching the peak of the omicron wave that has caused five deaths
Acting chief medical officer of health Catherine Elliott. (Yukon News file)

The Yukon will be rolling back some COVID-19 restrictions — and continuing with others — as the territory looks to wind down from Omicron’s peak.

“It looks at this point that we’ve reached the Omicron peak and we have early signals that we may be starting to decline. These are early and there’s much uncertainty at the time and we need a bit more time to watch the trends to be certain,” said chief medical officer Dr. Catherine Elliott during a press conference on Feb. 10.

“I ask everyone to please act responsibly during this time and with restraint. I would not want to have to go backward with our restrictions. We’ve had some hard-won ground gained at this point and we still have a ways to go,” she said.

Effective as of Feb. 11, restrictions on gathering sizes will be loosened for indoor arts and recreation, cultural gatherings, weddings and funerals and personal gatherings.

Bars and restaurants will be allowed to introduce bar and counter service, but spacing will remain and vaccine passports will still be required.

Changes to gathering sizes include: Indoor recreational team sports for people 19 years of age and older will increase to 25 people or 50 per cent of venue capacity, whichever is less.

Indoor arts and recreational activities for all ages will increase to 25 people or 50 per cent of venue capacity, whichever is less.

Indoor cultural gatherings will increase to 25 people or 50 per cent of venue capacity, whichever is less, with no restriction on the number of households.

Indoor weddings and funerals will be allowed provided they are limited to 25 people, or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less, with no restriction on the number of households.

Yukoners attending personal gatherings indoors should still limit attendance to 10 people, but will no longer be limited to two households. Outdoor gatherings can be organized up to 25 people.

“Assuming we continue to trend in the right direction, we will be in a position to loosen additional measures next week, including increasing the limit on indoor organised events to 50 per cent of venue capacity and removing the household limit for groups at bars and restaurants,” said Minister Ranj Pillai.

The government will also be expanding access to rapid tests, which can be picked up at Centennial Motors, across from the airport, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 12.

Each rapid test kit contains five at-home rapid tests and are available to all Yukon households, regardless of whether a person is symptomatic or not.

Elliott said indicators including rate of vaccination, hospitalizations and deaths, outbreaks, staff absenteeism, positivity rate and the daily case count are all being used to analyse the situation within the territory.

The ideal positivity rate is five per cent, but the current average in the Yukon is 35 per cent, indicating widespread community transmission continues.

Right now there are 99 active cases in the territory, among people being tested. Five deaths during the Omicron wave have brought the total number of COVID-19 deaths to 20. Two active outbreaks remain at the Thomson Centre and Whistle Bend long-term care homes.

“This wave, I want to let you know that it has been severe. We’ve had a quarter of our COVID 19 deaths over the entire pandemic have occurred during this,” said Elliott.

Elliott said recent deaths have occurred both at home and in hospitals, and some of the deaths have taken place in long-term care.

“A number of our deaths have been amongst people over 65 in this wave, and the majority of our deaths have been among people who are non-vaccinated, and certainly not fully vaccinated. So those are the things that are happening here in the territory and they definitely reflect the data elsewhere,” she said.

Elliott said although some jurisdictions – including Saskatchewan and Alberta – are bringing their vaccine passports to an end, the Yukon will not be changing its system for now.

“I am well aware that the jurisdictions are loosening restrictions at a quicker pace. Some are doing this due to being further along in the wave. Some are doing it due to other pressures and concerns,” she said.

Commenting on recent protests in Whitehorse that have called for an end to mandates, masking and other pandemic measures, both Elliott and Pillai said people have a right to protest but should do so in a safe manner.

“Freedom of speech, healthy debate and plurality of beliefs and opinions are hallmarks of our democracy and things that I myself hold dear,” said Elliott. “This should never be at the cost of anybody’s safety.”

Pillai reiterated that people unhappy with the government’s decisions should not be taking out their anger on businesses or ordinary Yukoners.

“Please direct your frustration to folks in government, but let’s support business and not make it more difficult,” he said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at