NWT health minister declares territory-wide Public Health Emergency due to coronavirus threat

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola (left) and Health and Social Services Minister Diane Thom during a news conference in March. (Francis Tessier-Burns/CKLB).

The Northwest Territories minister of health and social services has now declared a territory-wide Public Health Emergency in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

There are still no confirmed cases in the NWT.

Diane Thom’s declaration took effect at 12 noon on Wednesday.

According to a GNWT news release, it was done under the NWT Public Health Act to protect public health in the Northwest Territories.

The Public Health Emergency was declared upon the recommendation of Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola, and is in effect from Wednesday at least until April 1, states the release.

It goes on to state that the purpose of calling an emergency is to allow the chief public health officer to take strong, binding actions to protect all NWT residents, and swiftly respond to the daily-evolving needs of the healthcare system as it tackles a pandemic.

At this time, Dr. Kandola is focusing efforts on controlling the spread over the next 60 days.

“My advice to the Minister of Health and Social Services comes from the latest medical information across the country, and a careful consideration of the Northwest Territories’ unique situation. We are working around the clock — public health, nurses, doctors, and frontline staff — to address the spread of COVID-19,” the doctor states. “We are continuing to move forward with one of the most aggressive testing regimes in the country, tracking contact history of all possible patients, and taking appropriate action to reduce contact with others. Remember: our best defense against this virus is each other. If you’re sick, stay home, avoid contact with others, and call your local public health or healthcare centre. Wash your hands — a lot. Keep at least two metres between yourself and others.”

This is the most crucial period as the territory works to slow spread, flatten the curve, and keep our residents safe, the release states.

“This is the right step to take to protect all Northwest Territories residents from the spread of COVID-19. Nothing is off-the-table when it comes to keeping our residents safe, and our healthcare system strong,” Thom stated.  “We urge all residents to do their part by following all advice from healthcare professionals every single day, and supporting each other as we all change our lifestyles in response to the pandemic. All residents should keep informed on the latest health information, and stay calm while we rise to this challenge together. ”

The public health emergency covers all the NWT and will provide expanded powers to the Chief Public Health Officer to:

  • authorize qualified people to provide additional aid and services as needed;
  • expedite emergency licensing of additional health care providers;
  • make orders and provide directions restricting or prohibiting travel to or from any area within the Northwest Territories;
  • coordinate and provide for the delivery of medical services;
  • procure and provide for the distribution of medical supplies and equipment across the NWT;

Under the Act, Public Health Emergencies may last up-to 14 days. However, if the risk to public health remains, the Minister may re-declare a Public Health Emergency, as often as necessary.

Quick facts


  • Under a Public Health Emergency, the Chief Public Health Officer may take any reasonable measure considered necessary to protect public health.
  • This could include making Orders — legally binding direction — to individuals and organizations including businesses, governments, agencies, and non-profit groups to respond to a Public Health Emergency.
  • Examples of Orders could be that individuals self-isolate, businesses enact emergency measures to alleviate health risks, or major changes be made to traffic incoming in the territory.

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About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.