Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Friday that he was heeding a request from the province of Quebec for military help in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
“We received a request from the Quebec government for an intervention by the Armed Forces to lend a hand to northern and isolated communities,” Trudeau said at his daily news conference in Ottawa to give updates on the pandemic.
The request came from provincial Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault, who thanked her federal counterpart and the Canadian Rangers, who will support Quebec public health officials in the 14 Inuit communities in the Quebec’s far north.
“The goal is to screen for and minimize the transmission of COVID-19 in these communities,” Guilbault tweeted.
The Rangers, who number about 5,000 members total, provide a Canadian Forces presence in sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada.
According to a message sent out by General Jonathan Vance, head of the Canadian Armed Forces, the military has “already responded to a number of requests for assistance.”
Vance also said that health officials are “advising senior leadership on the virus and precautions” that military personal will need to know before helping and will be “issuing personal protective equipment (PPE) to all who deploy on operations. You will be issued and trained in its use before engaging on any task that would put you at risk.”
The military won’t say how many member of the Canadian Rangers will be deployed.
“Now that our assistance has been requested by the Province of Quebec, we are moving forward to coordinate CAF support, determine the number of troops and resources required for the specific requested tasks, and finalize plans to engage locally,” said a statement from military media relations.
“This planning is required to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the community by deploying the right assets. More information will be available as we complete this process.”
The 2nd Canadian Ranger patrol group is responsible for Quebec and is headquartered in Richelieu, outside Montreal.
The measures in the remote north come as the province reported another 25 deaths linked to COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 61.
At the time of this posting, two communities in Nunavik, Salluit and Puvirnituq each have a confirmed case of COVID-19. Farther south, the Cree community of Chisasibi has one case and Nemaska has two.
(Salluit was the first community in Nunavik to have someone test positive for COVID-19.)
Three Innu communities are dealing with cases. Uashat Mak Mani Utenam has three, Nutashkuan and Pessamit each have at least one confirmed case.
The Kahnawake Mohawk Territory currently has five confirmed cases bring the total in Quebec’s Indigenous communities to 12.
Quebec is fighting against the fast spreading novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. At the moment, 61 people have died from the virus. More than 6,000 have tested positive.
Josee Levesque, a spokeswoman for the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, said the military assistance announced Friday is a community response as the Rangers are a local resource already present in the region.
“When I’m talking about our needs, it’s about helping us deploy services on the territory, 14 isolated communities,” Levesque said, adding Rangers will be stationed in all communities.
For now, that support will come in the form of putting up heated tents outside clinics that will be used exclusively for testing and triage of COVID-19 cases.
There could be additional requests for help, Levesque said.
The Rangers’ COVID-19 deployment comes amid a rapidly changing situation in Quebec’s remote north in the past week.
On Thursday, public health officials in Nunavik announced they would be imposing a lockdown in the region beginning Friday.
There would no longer be regular flights to and from Nunavik’s communities, and flights between fly-in communities were also cancelled until further notice.
On Monday, the vast region in sub-arctic Quebec, announced strict rules against all public gatherings and closed all public spaces.
Authorities encouraged church services to be broadcast online and put in a curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Levesque said the situation is no different than in the south where some people are getting the message better than others.
The rules have been adjusted to meet the needs of those living in the north, however. For instance, when many people live under roof, the advice given is to stick with those people for shopping or going into the bush.
“We’re getting a good response, people are listening, they are asking questions,” Levesque said.
Also Friday, Quebec announced that families wishing to take seniors who are in good health out of residences and long-term care facilities will be able to do so, as long those elderly family members are able to walk out of the home themselves.
“We have to be careful, family won’t be allowed to go inside to get their relatives,” Premier Francois Legault said.
With files from the Canadian Press