Premier Sandy Silver announced a timeline for lifting public health restrictions in March and April as the territory approaches the two year anniversary of the pandemic.
“We have had to make very serious and difficult decisions every day to protect the health and safety of Yukoners,” said Silver, reflecting on two years of dealing with the virus.
The press conference on March 2 announced a plan to reverse some of those restrictions. Beginning Friday, almost all public restrictions, outside of masking and proof of vaccination, will be removed.
Silver said it’s time “to get your dancing shoes.”
The government plans to remove the remaining restrictions — mandatory masking and proof of vaccination — on March 18. Masking will still be strongly recommended, especially where people are in close quarters and cannot be physically distanced.
Silver noted that businesses have the right to require mask-wearing and individual establishments can still utilize the proof-of-vaccine tools at their discretion.
“As we look to adapt in the coming weeks, we need to continue to be kind and respectful,” said Silver.
The mandate requiring government workers to be vaccinated, which resulted in leave-without-pay for those workers who refused, will end on April 4 if the positive trend continues.
That invitation back may not be universal across departments. Silver noted that discussions are still ongoing as to how the government will handle bringing back unvaccinated workers in high-risk settings with vulnerable people, such as long-term care homes or hospitals.
Elliott added that healthcare workers, in particular, have an obligation to protect patients.
“When we talk about lifting masks, for example, in indoor settings, this does not include healthcare settings. And there’s a good reason for that,” she said.
Elliott also addressed division caused by the public health restrictions, including weekly protests that challenged mandates and vaccines. Elliott said those heated conversations have moved into schoolyards.
“We need to move forward, and we need to heal together,” she said. “I encourage you to be wise in your choices and accept the diversity and other people’s choices.”
“For some people, it will feel like things are taking a very long time to change back to fewer measures, and for others, it will be a frightening time, a time that fuels anxiety,” said Elliott. “This is why everybody will make their own choices and why respect is so important.”
“Some people might not feel comfortable socializing with those who are unvaccinated or they may want to take extra measures. So, feel comfortable to ask and to be asked. It’s okay, we make different choices,” she said.
Elliott noted that COVID-19 transmissibility continues in the territory and people should use their “COVID-sense” to adapt and continue to think about protecting vulnerable people. Outdoor gatherings remain safer than indoor gatherings.
It remains necessary to isolate if experiencing symptoms and testing remains a valuable tool.
Elliott said we’ve stabilized at a moderate level of case activity after overcoming the peak of the Omicron wave. As of March 2 there were 43 active cases, four new cases and an overall number of 123 hospitalizations and 21 deaths since the pandemic began.
The government announced the 21st death attributed to COVID-19 in the territory on March 1.
Hours for the COVID-19 testing centre will also change moving forward. The centre will now be open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed between 12 and 12:30 p.m. during the week. The centre will also be open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Lab-based PCR testing will remain available for those “at high risk of developing serious illness” including people over the age of 50, pregnant individuals, unvaccinated people, frontline healthcare workers, residents and staff in group living settings and people with underlying health issues.
Appointments are required and can be booked online or by phone at 867-393-3083 in Whitehorse. Rural residents can contact their Community Health Centre.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org