Arctic Canada: what are the Northwest Territories and its residents doing about COVID-19?

The Yellowknife Airport. Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife has cancelled a class trip to Europe. Other travellers in the city are sitting tight, hoping they won’t have to do the same thing. (Jennifer Geens/CBC)
Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife has cancelled a class trip to Europe.

About 20 students and several adults had planned to visit Prague, Vienna and Zagreb, over March break. Students and parents were notified Monday that the trip was called off due to fears about COVID-19.

“We just thought it would be the best, most responsible precaution to take place right now,” said principal Dean MacInnis, adding he knows it’s “very disappointing” as they planned the trip a year in advance.

“Certainly it’s a big thing in a sense that it’s an event that a kid who might be in Grade 11 and 12, they really look forward to.”

But Dean said once the Arctic Winter Games were cancelled they “felt the precaution had to be taken.”

The decision to cancel was made after consultation with the school district superintendent, the school board, the travel company organizing the trip, the travel company’s insurance company, and the school board’s insurance company.

MacInnis also said staff and students were not surprised at the cancellation, as they’d been discussing the possibility for the past three weeks.

Stay or go?

He said he knows of other teachers in Yellowknife who have cancelled plans to go to Europe over March break, and are planning on travelling within Canada instead.

He himself is planning a trip to Toronto with his family, to take in some sporting events.

Sam Kidston and her husband, Dave Hysert, plan to leave for B.C. and Mexico Friday. ‘I’m definitely torn,’ Kidston says. ‘I think it’s probably smarter to stay put, but I don’t want to. So I’m pretty sure we’re just gonna go.’ (Submitted by Sam Kidston)

Yellowknifer Sam Kidston is also planning a March break holiday. Two weeks ago, she booked a trip for her family to B.C., Mexico, and then Edmonton for her son’s hockey tournament.

“I’m definitely torn,” Kidston said. “I think it’s probably smarter to stay put, but I don’t want to. So I’m pretty sure we’re just gonna go.”

Kidston was worried about the number of COVID-19 cases in Mexico — seven around noon on Tuesday — until she looked up the number of cases in B.C. — 13 by Tuesday.

“I’ve already had a big talk with my kids about being total germaphobes,” she said.

She plans on carrying Lysol wipes and being stringent about hand washing and cleanliness.

Fist bumps for ‘Good Game’

Sixty teams from Alberta, Saskatchewan, the N.W.T. and Nunavut. are expected to attend the 15th Annual Knights Spring on Ice tournament in Edmonton from March 27 to 29.

Mike Lalonde is also planning to attend with his eight-year-old son.

“It’s a fun one,” he said.

He said parents just received an update from the organizers about precautions.

“Kids are to fist bump when they line up to say ‘Good Game’ at the end with gloves on instead of shaking with their gloves off, that kind of thing,” he said.

“There’s no intention, I think, from our teams to do anything unless directed that more severe action needs to be taken.”

No cruises, seniors stay home

In a media statement Tuesday afternoon, the N.W.T.’s chief public health officer advised anyone over 60 to avoid travel outside of the territory, and that everyone avoid cruise ship travel.

Dr. Kami Kandola also noted the risk of community transmission in B.C., “where cases are no longer linked to direct travel to an affected area.”

The territory is now testing people who have travelled outside the N.W.T. in the past 14 days and are showing flu-like symptoms. These people are asked to self-isolate until results are available.

So far, no cases of COVID-19 have been found out of 24 tests.

Employers are also advised to reconsider non-essential travel for work outside the N.W.T. Those traveling overseas are asked to view the latest federal travel advisories issued per country.

Fear of quarantine
Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs during a trip to Thailand in November of 2018. She hopes to head to Vietnam in April. (Submitted by Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs)

Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs, an APTN reporter based in Yellowknife, is scheduled to head to Asia on April 8 with two friends. They’d planned an almost month-long backpacking trip in Vietman, but Morritt-Jacobs is afraid it may not happen.

She’s worried they could be quarantined, especially because they have a stopover in Beijing.

“I would hate to take off and go to the airport and then be told we need to wait in a hotel for two weeks,” she said.

The group has put off their final decision on the trip until March 31. After then they won’t be able to get refunds for accommodation and flights within Vietnam.

As for refunds on the flights she’s booked with Air Canada — from Yellowknife to Vancouver to Asia — Morritt-Jacobs expects to be out of pocket for about $500.

But she’s not quite sure whether she’ll cancel.

“I actually just have delayed and procrastinated even looking into that because I don’t really want my sad reality of not being able to get away for this awesome trip to actually come to fruition.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic cruise operators brace for coronavirus uncertainty, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s first coronavirus case confirmed in Lapland, Yle News

Norway: Norway cancels NATO Arctic military exercise due to coronavirus outbreak, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Coronavirus: Russia hints it might close its border with Norway, Finland, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Concern over coronavirus outbreak impacts tourism in northern Europe and Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sara Minogue, CBC News

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