Emerging Wisely 2021

Emerging Wisely 2021 is the Northwest Territories' strategy for safely resuming activities that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Current situation

Leisure travel

  • Leisure travel into the territory is not permitted. Exemptions are considered for compassionate reasons, family reunification, exceptional circumstances, travel from Nunvut, and remote tourism.
  • Residents are advised to be familiar with the public health orders in the jurisdiction they are visiting and to be aware of locations where COVID infections are increasing, especially those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.


  • Fully vaccinated travellers entering small NWT communities will require a day 1 test and a day 8 test.
  • Partially vaccinated travellers will require a day 8 negative test if they are travelling to a small community after completing their self-isolation in a larger centre.
  • Unvaccinated travellers will require a day 10 negative test if they are travelling to a small community after completing their self-isolation in a larger centre .
  • Small communities are any NWT community that does not include the hub communities of Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, and Fort Smith, as well as Fort Simpson and Norman Wells.
    • This requirement is in place because small communities do not have the same health care capacity as other communities. Lower vaccination rates in some communities mean the COVID-19 risk is higher.
    • This requirement applies to all travellers regardless of residency status.
  • Fully vaccinated essential workers supporting vulnerable or high-risk populations will require a day 1 test and a day 8 test.
  • Partially vaccinated and unvaccinated essential workers entering the NWT receive specific guidance from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO) about testing and other requirements based on their specific vaccine status, location, nature of work and employment. Partially vaccinated and unvaccinated essential workers can pursue the reduction in self-isolation period exemption based on their vaccination status. This includes workers who have been outside the NWT in the last 14 days who work in healthcare, correctional, school settings, those working with unvaccinated populations or high-risk settings such as shelters for example.
  • If you received your vaccine in the NWT, you will not require proof of vaccination. If you did not receive your vaccine within the NWT, proof of vaccination status will need to be provided upon request. It is recommended these travellers have this available before applying to travel to the NWT, along with their Self-Isolation Plan.

  • Household members must follow the same self-isolation guidance as the traveller, regardless of their vaccination status. If vaccination status differs for multiple travellers, the rest of the household must isolate for the longest period. This requirement is based on evidence indicating that extended and prolonged close contact with someone with COVID-19, such as in a household environment, increases transmission. No testing is required for household members unless symptomatic.

Indoor gatherings

High-risk activities, including:

  • Live singing
  • Wind instrument performances
  • Indoor dancing
  • Funerals
  • Handgames
  • Indoor winter sports

Groups with existing approved plans will not need to reapply unless they would like to change how they are gathering.

Outdoor gatherings

  • Behchoko is currently under a Containment Order, to learn more visit: Questions and answers - Containment Orders.
  • Whati is currently under a Containment Order, to learn more visit: Questions and answers - Containment Orders.
  • Yellowknife, N'Dilo, and Dettah are currently under a Gathering Restrictions Order, please visit 'Gatherings and Events' for more details. The Order supersedes the information below for those communities.
  • 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 for an activity exemption. 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.

  • 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

Travel restrictions

Risk threshold:

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

Estimated timeline:
Late summer - early fall 2021

    • 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 8 or 10 negative 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.

    No restrictions

    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).

    Estimated timeline:
    Mid-late fall 2021

    • 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.

    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