Northwest Territories reports first case of COVID-19 in the North

YELLOWKNIFE — The Northwest Territories reported what is believed to be the first case of COVID-19 in Canada's North on Saturday as it closed its doors to those from outside the territory.

The patient had travelled to British Columbia and Alberta, and developed mild symptoms three days after returning to Yellowknife, the government said.

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The person is now recovering at home and public health officials are in the process of contact tracing so all those exposed can be monitored or tested.

"Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola has issued an order prohibiting entry of non-residents to the Northwest Territories by land, air, or port with limited exceptions," Health Minister Diane Thom said Saturday.

"These measures are drastic. They will be challenging. But they are necessary."

Disobeying that order is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and six months in jail, according to a news release.

The North is considered to be among Canada's most vulnerable locations to an outbreak of COVID-19, because of the limited health care access.

The territory is requiring that returning residents self-isolate in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River or Inuvik in an effort to stop the virus from making its way to smaller, more remote communities.

Thom said the government is doing everything in its power to prevent an outbreak.

"We're testing at a rate double that of Canada's as-a-whole so we can trace and respond to infection quickly. We're marshalling all available resources to bolster our health care response," she said. "And no option is off-the-table as we move forward."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2020.

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