The long-distance effort to escape the pandemic occurred at a time when government authorities around the world, including in Canada, are urging people to avoid nonessential travel.
In particular, governments have called on people to stay away from rural areas, which are considered more vulnerable because they lack the medical and food resources of bigger cities.
The chief said he hopes the couple’s story encourages others to stay away from smaller communities, particularly places like Old Crow, which is already dealing with a housing crisis.
The couple was intercepted at the local airport as they waited to pick up their luggage.
Paul Josie, Old Crow’s emergencies officer, was at the airport to hand out pamphlets with information about local Covid-19 protocols and self-isolation instructions. He said in an interview with POLITICO that he didn’t recognize the couple and they looked out of place.
The man told Josie that, with everything going with the virus, they wanted to find a job and a place to live in town. Josie said they acknowledged they didn’t have anything lined up.
To ensure the visitors didn’t come into contact with others, Josie immediately brought them to the local cooperative, which rents out rooms. They were met by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and instructed to stay in their room until they left Sunday on a flight back to the territorial capital of Whitehorse. Food was brought to their room during their stay.
“This community is very vulnerable to the virus,” Josie told POLITICO of his decision to rush the couple into isolation.
The RCMP did not return calls from POLITICO about the case.
Tizya-Tramm described the couple as “hippy-ish” and likely under the age of 35. The man had two facial tattoos, Josie added.
They were clearly unprepared for life in the far north. “They came off the plane in sweatpants and a jacket and a hat — no gloves,” Tizya-Tramm said.
Locals are typically “generous and hospitable,” he said, but the unexpected guests arrived at a time of deep worry in the area.
The community has invoked emergency powers for the first time, even though it has no reported cases of the virus.
It’s critical that the virus stay out of Old Crow. Many residents are smokers and respiratory illnesses are very common, he said. In addition, Tizya-Tramm said the community does not have a doctor, only a head nurse.
He warned the lack of Covid-19 cases doesn’t mean Old Crow should be viewed as a haven for others, something he told the couple. “I had to flip his perspective and let him know that, actually, we aren’t the safest place in Canada,” Tizya-Tramm said.
“We do not have the capacity to deal with a very robust outbreak of the Covid-19. … Our community, albeit remote, is not a life raft for the rest of the world.”
Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer, told reporters late Monday that the couple, though “misguided,” did not break any laws and will therefore avoid any charges.
They were moved into self-isolation in an unidentified location, he said when asked about their whereabouts.
Although Hanley said measures were in place to guide their behavior, their case shows efforts to limit travel must be reinforced. To protect isolated communities like Old Crow, he said the government is in talks with airlines to help avoid a repeat of this kind of situation.
“To me, this is very a human story,” Hanley said when asked about the couple. “It’s a story of two people who were afraid, who wanted to seek refuge and thought they were going to a safe place.”