Yukon, Northwest Territories begin to ease COVID-19 measures after month of no new cases

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Yukon premier announces reopening plan for territory'
Coronavirus outbreak: Yukon premier announces reopening plan for territory
WATCH: Yukon Premier Sandy Silver on Friday announced the territory's reopening plan and the upcoming loosening of restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic – May 15, 2020

Two of Canada’s three territories began the first phases of their economic reopening plans Friday, after a month without reporting any new cases of the novel coronavirus.

The Yukon simultaneously released its plan to ease restrictions while announcing the start of its first phase. The Northwest Territories announced the start of its own first phase of a plan that was released earlier this week.

Both territories will now allow more households to mingle together and for more people to gather within single homes. Yet their borders will remain closed to visitors, with officials saying those closures were instrumental to keeping their case counts low.

“We are still on the first steps of a pathway forward,” said Yukon Premier Sandy Silver at a news conference Friday.

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Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane agreed, while warning in a statement that “we aren’t out of the woods yet.”

The Yukon’s five-phase plan lists the first “restart” phase as beginning immediately, with businesses that were ordered to close allowed to reopen as long as they submit an operational plan.

The most immediate effect is that two households, up to 10 people in total, can interact with each other as part of a “household bubble.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Yukon announces first two cases of COVID-19'
Coronavirus outbreak: Yukon announces first two cases of COVID-19

But bars and restaurants that offer dine-in services won’t be allowed to reopen until the chief medical officer of health lifts orders restricting them from opening.

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Borders will also remain closed, but residents will be allowed to travel throughout the territory more easily.

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No hard dates are attached to the forthcoming phases. Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, says the phases may take weeks to months, and is conscious of the threat of moving too quickly.

“It’s all about balance,” he said.

“Our first priority for now is keeping the risk of importation down.”

But Silver warned stricter measures may be reintroduced if COVID-19 cases begin to rise again.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “We are still in the early phases of this pandemic.”

The Northwest Territories’ plan is similar to the Yukon’s, listing three phases to get through before reaching a final, post-vaccine “new normal.”

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The first phase means households can invite up to five people they don’t live with inside for a total of 10 people. Other indoor gatherings will also be limited to 10 people.

Outdoor groups cannot exceed 25 people, although outdoor sports — except for rugby — can proceed. Playgrounds, beaches, boat launches and other gathering places will also be reopened under the restrictions.

Businesses, including personal services, massage therapy clinics, chiropractors, museums and art galleries, can also reopen while ensuring physical distancing and other virus mitigation measures.

Health and Social Services Minister Diane Thom said the territory’s compliance and enforcement taskforce will still be monitoring gatherings and ticketing anyone who violates the new gathering restrictions.

“Now, more than ever, we need to work together to keep each other safe,” she said in a statement.

The Yukon has reported 11 cases of COVID-19, while the Northwest Territories has seen five confirmed cases. All of those patients have since recovered.

The most recent cases in both territories were reported roughly a month ago.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Northwest Territories confirms 1st case of COVID-19'
Coronavirus outbreak: Northwest Territories confirms 1st case of COVID-19

Despite not having any confirmed cases within its borders, Nunavut has yet to release a plan for reopening its own economy, which was put under strict lockdown measures to prevent the virus from entering.

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Health officials on Thursday said they are currently working on that plan, which could be unveiled next week.

The territory’s public health emergency has been extended to May 28.

—With files from the Canadian Press

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