Emerging Wisely 2021

The Northwest Territories is moving away from “phases” and towards risk mitigation and guidance. 

Current situation

Leisure travel

  • Non-essential out of territory travel is not recommended.
  • Leisure travel into the territory is not permitted. Exemptions are considered for compassionate reasons, family reunification, exceptional circumstances, travel from Nunavut/Yukon, and remote tourism.


  • Fully vaccinated: 8 days self-isolation with negative day 8 test.
  • Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated: 14 days self-isolation.
  • Exemptions are considered for travellers from Nunavut and Yukon.

Indoor gatherings

  • Up to 25 people or businesses follow approved plans. Households can have up to 10 people with a maximum of 5 non-household members.

Outdoor gatherings

  • We are now able to spend time with our family and friends outside.

  • We are able to enjoy outdoor sports, music festivals, food and drink on patios, garage sales and parades.

  • Children can play outside without having to physically distance. Activities involving less than 200 people can go ahead with minimal restrictions.If you are planning events involving more than 200 people you will need to apply through ProtectNWT for approval.

  • The Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) will assist businesses and organizations who would like to hold these events and are looking for ways to mitigate risk and protect anyone attending. Businesses and organizations that already have approval in place to hold these events can continue to follow their approved plan or reapply if things have changed.

  • Outside gatherings are lower risk because there is a lot of space to distance and more air flow so COVID-19 has less of a chance to hang around. Some gatherings are still considered high risk like funerals or celebrations of life. These activities still need approval from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO). The OCPHO will work with you to set measures that will help reduce the risk to everyone attending these events.

Relaxing measures

Indoor gatherings

  • We will be able to gather indoors again, with some limits on the highest risk activities.
  • All indoor public spaces can return to near pre-pandemic capacities.
  • That means we can gather in restaurants, stores, places of worship, offices and other businesses as we did before the pandemic.
  • You can go over to people’s houses and host friends and family in your home.
  • We can look forward to events like family reunions, workplace get-togethers and parties.
  • You should consider the risk of getting COVID-19 before taking part in indoor activities and ways to mitigate that risk. If physical distancing can’t be done, we recommend you wear a mask indoors. Higher risk indoor facilities such as healthcare, long-term care and corrections facilities may have more stringent policies.
  • Up to 200 people can gather indoors in one space without an exemption. This limit allows our health care system to better respond should there be COVID-19 cases linked to an indoor gathering. If you’re planning events involving over 200 people you will need to apply through ProtectNWT for approval.
  • You will need to provide an approved exposure plan for live singing, wind instrument performances, indoor dancing, handgames, funerals and indoor winter sports. Groups with existing approved plans will not need to reapply unless they would like to change how they are gathering.

Estimated timeline:
Early July 2021 - after the school year ends

Risk threshold:
66-75% Full Vaccination or 75% Partial Vaccination



  • The NWT experiences a lot of travel across its borders and importation is the main source of infection.
  • As COVID-19 cases outside of the NWT consistently decrease to below 1,000 cases daily, the risk of importation will be low enough that public health orders related to travel restrictions and self-isolation can be lifted or adjusted as:
    • There is no indication of future waves of COVID-19 infections across Canada, especially in the fall when people return to congregating in closed spaces.
    • There is no introduction of new COVID-19 variants that the vaccine don’t protect us from.
  • The CPHO will no longer recommend that only essential travel take place. People are encouraged to enjoy travel for many purposes while taking precautions. NWT residents, essential workers, compassionate travellers and people coming into the NWT for family reunification can look forward to the following:
    • No isolation for fully vaccinated travellers – including their household members.
    • Essential workers dealing with vulnerable populations or who work in congregate settings or small communities will need a negative day 1 COVID-19 test prior to work and a day 14 test while self-monitoring through an exemption process.
    • 8-day isolation for partially vaccinated travellers (and household members) with a negative day 8 COVID-19 test.
    • 10-day isolation for unvaccinated travellers (and household members) with a negative day 10 COVID-19 test.
    • Those travelling to small communities* will need a day 14 test while finishing their self-monitoring.
      *Communities other than: Yellowknife, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Hay River, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells

Estimated timeline:
Early summer 2021

Risk threshold:

  • Canada 66-75% Partially Vaccinated, and
  • Canada case count under 1,000 (seven-day average)

Travel restrictions

  • At this stage everyone will be able to visit the NWT!
  • The following will apply to all visitors. The requirements are the same as above, but we are opening up who can travel into the NWT.
    • No self-isolation for fully vaccinated travellers.
    • 8-day isolation for partially vaccinated travellers (and household members) with a negative day 8 COVID-19 test
    • 10-day isolation for unvaccinated travellers (and household members) with a negative day 10 COVID-19 test.
    • Those travelling to small communities* will need a day 14 test while finishing their self-monitoring.
      *Communities other than: Yellowknife, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Hay River, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells
    • To help with contact tracing and rapidly respond to any outbreaks, Self-Isolation Plans will still be required until all travel restrictions are lifted.
    • All travellers should self-isolate and seek medical guidance immediately if any symptoms show up or they are named as a close contact or part of an outbreak.

Estimated timeline:
Late summer - early fall 2021

Risk threshold:

  • NWT 75% Fully Vaccinated;
  • Canada 66-75% Fully Vaccinated; and
  • Canada case count under 1,000 (seven-day average).

No restrictions

  • We anticipate that the Pfizer vaccine will be approved for children under 11 by the time school starts in the fall of 2021. We will be able to lift all restrictions and end the Public Health Emergency when 75 percent of our population 12-and-older has both doses of the vaccine and at least 66 percent of our total population,including children younger than 12, have received the first dose of the vaccine.
  • All restrictions lifted means: no self-isolation requirements, travel restrictions or limits on capacity for activities indoors and outdoors.
  • NWT residents should be aware that when this happens the structures put in place to respond to the pandemic will be removed. There will be no enhanced testing or increased contact tracing capacity. COVID-19 compliance and enforcement will be stood down. There will be no monitoring of the border. We will adjust to living with COVID-19.

Estimated timeline:
Mid-late fall 2021

Risk threshold:

  • NWT 75% Fully Vaccinated (12+);
  • NWT 66-75% Partially Vaccinated (in total population, including children younger than 12); and
  • Canada case count under 1,000 (seven-day average).

A new normal

COVID-19 will be around for a long time even with effective vaccines. We must continue to live with the virus and adapt to a new normal.

Variants of Concern

There are still high levels of infection, community spread and inequitable access to vaccines in many other parts of the world. That’s why we can expect variants of concern to develop and current vaccines will be less effective or ineffective to protect us from these new strains of the virus.

  • These situations would require a booster dose of a vaccine that protects against these strains and would likely result in a need to return to more restrictive measures until vaccine coverage could catch up.
  • There is increasing concern that the “delta variant” or B.1.617 variant first identified in India, could start a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections. It spreads more easily and causes much more severe sickness than other variants. It has now become the dominant strain in the United Kingdom and India and has spread to over 62 countries at the time of this publication. It is also the dominant strain in Peel region in Ontario.
  • Fully vaccinated people have more immunity against the delta variant, but partially vaccinated people have significantly less immunity and are much more likely to become infected and spread it to others. Should a new variant or public health risk occur we will release an update to this plan to reflect the current risk at that time.

Opening International and U.S. Borders

As this plan was being released, the criteria to open Canada's borders to U.S. and international non-essential travel has not been announced.

  • It is anticipated that over 75 percent of Canadians need to be vaccinated before the Government of Canada would consider reopening the U.S. border and lifting international restrictions on non-essential travel.
  • The situation continues to be monitored as the pandemic evolves.

Personal Choice and Risk Management

How to protect yourself

  1. Get vaccinated.
    The most important measure is getting vaccinated. Globally, as of June 4, 2021, over two billion people have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, including hundreds of millions of people who received an mRNA vaccine. The vaccines in the NWT are very safe and effective. In some high-risk situations, however, like living in a home with someone who has COVID-19, even someone who is fully vaccinated can still develop COVID-19. Even if a person develops COVID-19, the vaccines are very protective against severe disease. People who are vaccinated should still get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and continue to follow routine public health measures. It is also important that NWT residents get their second dose as soon as they are eligible. As first dose vaccinations have increased across Canada, it is anticipated that the delta variant B.1.617 will become the dominant variant. Studies have shown that one dose of mRNA vaccine is only 33% effective against this variant.

  2. Be careful with travel. For travel advice and guidance, NWT residents can review the Public Health Agency of Canada’s travel guidance. For domestic travel, it is always important to look at provincial and territorial breakdowns of regional hotspots for COVID-19 activity.

  3. Practice healthy habits.

  4. Make informed decisions and assess your personal level of risk when choosing to attend an event or activity.

Key Pillars of Public Health Response

A strong public health response is needed to protect the population until the pandemic is declared over or COVID-19 becomes much less of a threat.

Wastewater Surveillance

Wastewater testing is a sensitive and cost-effective way to detect, identify and inform public health actions to stop the spread of COVID-19. It can detect the virus even before people feel sick or get tested.

Rapid Testing

The target turnaround time for COVID-19 test results is within 24 hours of receiving the sample at the laboratory. If the number of tests exceeds capacity due to an outbreak or an unexpected wastewater signal, tests may be sent to Alberta for processing. A detailed testing summary is available on the NWT COVID-19 Dashboard.

Targeted Screening

To be helpful to public health professionals testing people without symptoms, tests must be targeted toward people who are most likely to be positive for COVID-19. Of the people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the NWT to date, roughly 38% had no symptoms. Since we are screening incoming travellers most at risk to test positive for COVID-19 and essential workers in high-risk settings for testing, we are able to reduce self-isolation requirements.

Case Investigation and Timely Contact Tracing

In a case investigation public health staff works with a suspected or confirmed infected person to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious. Contacts are people who interacted with a person with a COVID-19 infection and are at higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 themselves. Sometimes, out of caution, it is necessary to consider everyone who was at the same location or event as a person with COVID-19 as contacts. It is important that these people are contacted quickly to reduce spread.

Rapid Response Team

In an outbreak, or if community spread happens, case investigations and contact tracing will quickly overwhelm local public health capacity and compromise an effective response. The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority's COVID-19 Response Team’s (ACRT) brings together leads from clinical, operations, and logistics areas from across the three health and social services authorities. They collaborate on system planning and work with their respective local teams to ensure operational planning and readiness is carried out. It was developed to provide clarity for employees, patients and the public regarding the approach for caring for patients with COVID-19, the health and social services system’s staged approach to respond to a surge in COVID-19, and the structures in place to support decision-making in a complex environment through a pandemic.

Healthcare System Capacity

The NWT has carefully planned for how it will manage patients with COVID-19 who require hospital care. The NWT health and social services system is limited compared to southern provinces that have larger populations. Outbreaks and COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization would place huge demand on the NWT healthcare system and potentially limit services for other important healthcare needs. To stay healthy and safe, we will want to continue some of these regular public health practices even after all restrictions are lifted:

  • Get vaccinated when you are eligible
  • Stay home if you are sick, avoid close contact with others and get assessed
  • Wear a mask, especially in indoor public spaces
  • Turn and cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • Throw used tissues in the garbage
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer when appropriate
  • Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces