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Social bubbles to expand, seated gatherings allowed as Yukon enters Phase 3 of COVID-19 reopening

The territory will enter Phase 3 on Aug. 1
Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley speak during a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on July 29. Phase 3 of the Yukon’s COVID-19 reopening plan will allow for larger social bubbles and seated gatherings as well as the return of organized sports and live music to bars. (Alistair Maitland Photography)

Phase 3 of the Yukon’s COVID-19 reopening plan will allow for larger social bubbles and seated gatherings as well as the return of organized sports and live music to bars.

Beginning Aug. 1, the two-household bubble rule — under which Yukoners could mingle with one other household without needing to keep physically distant — will be relaxed, Dr. Brendan Hanley, the territory’s chief medical officer of health, said during the Yukon government’s weekly COVID-19 update on July 29.

The new recommendation, Hanley said, will allow for three to five households per bubble, with the caveat that there should be no more than 10 to 15 people in any given social circle. He acknowledged that for larger families, that limit may mean nothing changes; however, smaller households may be able to add one or two others to their bubbles.

The restrictions on the number of people allowed at gatherings — 10 indoors, 50 outdoors — will not change, except if the event has assigned, appropriately-distanced seating in place with no plans for the mingling of guests. In that case, gatherings of up to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors will be permitted, paving the way for things like weddings, celebrations of life and cultural events to take place.

Bars will be permitted to host live music again, although no dancing or other mingling of patrons will be allowed.

Sports will also be back this winter, Hanley and Premier Sandy Silver said, and the government is meeting with major sports organizations to figure out safety plans.

All other restrictions, including requirements for anyone entering the Yukon from anywhere other than British Columbia or the other territories to self-isolate for 14 days, will remain in place until further notice while officials monitor the situation in other Canadian jurisdictions.

Both Hanley and Silver emphasized the importance of Yukoners remaining vigilant and continuing to practise the “Safe Six” — maintaining physical distancing, frequent hand-washing or sanitizing, staying home if you’re feeling sick, not gathering in groups larger than 10 inside or 50 outside, limiting travel to rural communities and self-isolating as needed.

Recent cases of community transmission in British Columbia and Alberta should serve as a reminder that we’re not out of the woods yet, Silver said, later mentioning “concerning reports” about large gatherings in the communities.

However, he also highlighted the fact that there have not been any new COVID-19 cases in the Yukon, even with the opening of travel to and from British Columbia on July 1.

More than 30,000 travellers have entered the Yukon since the end of April and beginning of May — 13,400 of them in-transit — without any spread of the coronavirus, Silver said. He added that the COVID-19 enforcement line has received 467 complaints, mostly related to out-of-territory travellers and people self-isolating, and that the Yukon has handed out just more than 100 visitor decals to vehicles with Outside plates permitted to travel within the territory.

Silver added that the Yukon government was anticipating a federal announcement on July 30 about “increased efforts” at the Canadian-U.S. borders.

Hanley said that while the reopening to British Columbia had been going well so far, it’s “inevitable” that the Yukon will eventually see “one, or two or 10 or more cases” of COVID-19 again.

“A new case or cluster here in the territory that is contained will not change our lives and will not change risk to the public, but the risk of exposure is always there,” he said.

“A handful of cases involving individuals who were doing the right thing, who were following public health direction, who were not in contact with a lot of people, whose contacts have been traced, will not change our lives except maybe to remind us that COVID is easily transmitted, is often around the corner and that we need to continue to practise that Safe Six.”

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