The Northwest Territories will ban travel from the south as early as Saturday, the region’s Public Health Officer announced.
“This measure will be required to ensure protection of residents of our smallest communities as people return north,” said Dr. Kami Kandola in a statement released late Friday.
These are the first internal controls imposed on travellers within Canada due to the pandemic.
The ban will not apply to NWT residents, people transporting vital supplies, and flight crews, among others.
All travellers entering NWT will have to self-isolate for 14 days in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, or Fort Smith, all destinations with same-plane service from Edmonton.
“This is necessary due to the growing risk of COVID-19 as it spreads through throughout Canada, and make it possible to ensure those at risk of COVID-19 due to travel are self-isolating in communities with well-equipped healthcare facilities,” said Kandola.
Canadian North said Friday it will screen all passengers flying to the Arctic from its southern bases, similar to screening measures ordered by the Canadian government for passengers arriving on flights from foreign countries.
The screening comes as a result of directives issued by the governments of Nunavut.
Additional questions will be asked of passengers between Montreal, Iqaluit, and the region of Nunavik in northern Quebec.
In addition, the governments of Nunavut and Nunavik have asked anyone arriving in the territory to self-isolate for 14 days..
“It is our collective responsibility to protect one another and reduce the spread of COVID-19, and this measure will help to ensure that,” said Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer Michael Patterson.
Canadian North has also told passengers it will reduce meal service on its flights to prepackaged sandwiches and water, in a bid to protect staff and passengers from the outbreak.
5/6 #COVID19 is not the same in all areas of 🇨🇦, therefore public health responses are being tailored to meet local challenges – but we must all be one with #socialdistancing – everyone, everywhere band together to #FlattentheCurve #WeGotThis #PlanktheCurve #ProudtobeCanadian— Dr. Theresa Tam (@CPHO_Canada) March 19, 2020
Canada’s Arctic is considered particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, due to its isolated populations and lack of suitable medical facilities. Ottawa has cancelled the 2020 cruise ship season, citing the region’s inability to handle a pandemic. A number of communities have also asked people to eliminate non-essential travel.
The Arctic has not been immune to the turmoil rocking the airline industry. Both Canadian North and Air North – the two airlines specializing in travel to the far north – have reduced their schedules in response to the pandemic.
Canadian North has reduced flight frequency, but has maintained most of its cargo capacity – a critical service in a region with few roads.
Air North has also seen reduced demand, but noted Thursday that flying in the North is more a fundamental part of life than in other parts of the country.
“We know that air travel in the north is more of an essential service than in the south, so we don’t expect demand to drop as significantly, but we are already seeing a need to cancel and consolidate certain flights on our network,” said Air North President Joe Sparling in a message to passengers.
“We will continue to look out for each other. Stay healthy, and we’ll share the sky again soon.”