Government officials had little new COVID-19 info to provide on Jan. 18, other than to implore Yukoners to follow the safe six as strict new limits on gatherings take effect.
“The impacts of Omicron on other jurisdictions absolutely provides us a glimpse of what may happen here in the days and weeks to come,” said Premier Sandy Silver. “This is why it’s so important to limit your contacts. This does not mean that you cannot see anyone at all but it is best if you limit your contacts to only one other household.”
The territory — which is usually a week or two behind southern provinces — is bracing for cases of the Omicron variant to reach a peak. While there are currently no COVID-19 patients in hospital in the territory, that could change rapidly.
“To go from zero people in beds to four is an extreme change in Yukon,” said Silver. “It’s not only that, but also, if we do get overrun, ‘Where would we go?’ is the next question.”
As of Jan. 18, new restrictions are now enforceable when it comes to gatherings.
These include an end to funerals, weddings and other indoor events, and bars and restaurants closing daily at 10:30 p.m. Recreational team sports, group fitness, group recreation and leisure activities are now limited to 10 people from a maximum of two vaccinated households.
This has effectively cancelled indoor sports and arts programming around the territory.
The new restrictions were announced on a Friday evening last week.
Silver said he recognizes that the impact on sports and leisure — activities many rely on to brighten the dark days of winter — are tough to swallow.
Restaurants and bars will be able to continue in-person dining, but individual tables are limited to groups of six people from two households. Elliott and Silver could not provide a rationale for why in-person dining remains open when other indoor venues are effectively shutting down, but said the suite of restrictions, taken together, are meant to reduce contacts overall.
“The restrictions are really meant to balance the needs of reducing contact,” said Elliott.
“Bottom line is we’re in a critical period here,” added Silver.
Silver acknowledged that the latest restrictions will be difficult for people across the territory. He said it is difficult to ask people — once again — to be patient, and the government is not making the choice lightly.
Asked how the territory is managing the impact on mental health, Silver admitted he didn’t “have an answer for that question right now.”
“It’s affecting everybody. It really is. I wish I had something really eloquent to say to make people feel better. Words would be cheap at this point,” he said. “It seems like we keep asking folks to dig deep and sometimes it feels pretty overwhelming. Feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel and sometimes that light turns into another train.
Silver added that based on the current modelling outlook, he sees the territory “getting past this really quickly.”
He encouraged all Yukoners to follow the safe six, obey restrictions and get a booster shot in order to make that happen.
The number of new daily COVID-19 cases has declined somewhat — it is now at an average of 31 new cases over the last three days — but Elliott noted that daily cases counts are less useful now that PCR testing is not required by a majority of Yukoners.
“[The decline is] related to the changes in who requires the PCR testing. The total number of people with COVID-19 is of course higher than these numbers,” she said.
Elliott also noted that no current hospitalizations and a lower case count mean that the restrictions are working.
She said based on evidence from other countries and provinces, the hope is that the Omicron wave will spike quickly and come down – although she cautioned that Quebec and British Columbia may be better indicators than South Africa.
“This wave will be more narrow or more short-lived than previous waves. That’s our hope right now,” she said. “There are pieces of the puzzle that we’re still looking at. But I would say that we’re not looking at a wave that’s going on for months and months.”
A new treatment for COVID-19, Pfizer’s Paxlovid, was approved by Health Canada on Jan. 17. Silver confirmed that supply of the drug is limited, but the Yukon is expecting to receive 100 courses of the drug.
He said the exact timeline for the delivery has not yet been confirmed by the federal government.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org