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Yukon lifts some COVID-19 restrictions as active cases decline

·3 min read

WHITEHORSE — The Yukon government has lifted a series of public health restrictions as active COVID-19 infections decline and the vaccination rate rises.

Starting Wednesday, the territory says masks are no longer required in indoor spaces but are strongly recommended when it's difficult to practise physical distancing.

Shops, grocers, bars, restaurants, recreational centres and transit operators should be respected if they request that clients wear masks, the government said.

Self-isolation after domestic travel is no longer required for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, while bars and restaurants may return to full capacity.

Yukon's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, told a news conference on Wednesday that mandatory masks and self-isolation are "no longer defensible measures" for such a highly vaccinated population.

The latest cases are mostly being linked to previously diagnosed infections, he said, and they're not seeing random, community-spread transmission.

There were 53 active COVID-19 infections in Yukon on Wednesday, down from 61 the day before. The territory reported six new cases for a total of 616 since the pandemic began. Nearly 90 per cent of those cases have been diagnosed since June.

Yukon is shifting its approach to COVID-19 from pandemic to endemic, Hanley said.

He acknowledged that some people may wonder whether it's the right time to ease public health restrictions as cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant rise in other parts of the country.

Yukon is "likely" to see the variant, he said.

However, the territory's projections indicate a low risk of Delta importations over the next few weeks to months despite pockets of unvaccinated people, Hanley said.

Seventy-four per cent of eligible Yukoners aged 12 and up have received a first dose, while 69 per cent are fully vaccinated, he said. About 11,000 Yukoners had not received any COVID-19 vaccine by the end of last month, said Hanley.

Yukon is aiming to get at least 90 per cent of residents fully vaccinated with even distribution throughout the territory, he said, adding there are about 5,500 people over age 12 who are eligible for vaccination but have yet to receive their first shot.

"If we could reduce that pool by half or more, we could substantially reduce the risk of Delta virus or other variants having a large impact," Hanley said.

Certain public health restrictions remain in place, including limits on the number of people who can gather at gyms and recreation centres. Social gatherings are still limited to 20 people indoors and to 100 outdoors. Organized events of any kind are capped at 200 people, with physical distancing required at all children's gatherings.

"We have to find the most balanced way forward, recognizing where restrictions can no longer be justified by the evidence, and refocusing our efforts on measures that are more effective and less onerous on the population," Hanley said.

Unvaccinated people should stick to six people and keep their circle small, the territory said in a statement announcing the rule changes.

Minister of Education Jeanie McLean also said Wednesday that schools will return to "near-normal" operations this fall, offering full-time, in-class instruction.

Students won't have to wear masks in class, but masks will be required for adults and kids aged five and up in common areas. School buses are set to resume normal operations with masks required for drivers and children five and up, she said.

"Testing, rapid response teams, critical social support workers and expanded vaccine access are just some of the tools we are using as part of our new paradigm," she said after outlining the updated public health rules.

— by Brenna Owen in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press

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