Nunavut braces for COVID-19

At Iqaluit's Northmart, cold medicine, disinfectant wipes and toilet paper are being limited to one per household. Nunavut has avoided the run on stock other regions are facing as a result of Covid-19 fears, in part due to how Nunavut's retailers take advantage of bulk shipping via ship in the summer months. Photo: Kent Driscoll/APTN.

Still without a confirmed case of COVID-19, Nunavut communities and the territorial government are stepping up precautionary measures in an effort to keep the virus at bay.

Three communities are asking people not to visit, and the Government of Nunavut has restricted travel for many employees.

On Friday Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson asked residents to avoid international travel and to reduce domestic travel. All non-essential duty travel for government employees has been called off and international school trips are also off the table.

The government has also cancelled its public events, while people are being asked to avoid Nunavut airports.

To reduce burden on Nunavut health care staff, the government waived sick note requirements for its own employees last week and is asking Nunavut employers to do the same.

While residents have not yet been asked to reduce travel within the territory, a growing number of communities are being proactive on the matter.

Coral Harbour, Igloolik and Cambridge Bay community councils have all asked visitors to not travel to their communities.

Cambridge Bay Mayor Pamela Gross said in a social media post Thursday that the community’s response “is based on our concern for the health of the community and particularly the Elders and those with compromised immune systems, who are most at risk in the event of infection.”

The Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), located in Cambridge Bay, is honouring Gross’ request and has suspended the work of eight researchers scheduled to arrive in the community over the next few weeks.

On Friday Transport Canada announced it is suspending cruise ship traffic for the entire 2020 season.

“Given the limited health capacity in northern communities, the cruise ship season for for vessels with Canadian Arctic stops will be deferred for the entire season this year,” the department announced in a news release.

This means fewer visitors for the 14 Nunavut communities that hosted 55 cruise ships last year and welcomes more than 10,000 visitors.

Agnico Eagle operates three gold mines in Nunavut, employing more than 2,000 people who travel to the mine via Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake. The company has stated it will screen employees for symptoms when they arrive in the communities.

Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly wrapped up on Friday, with COVID-19 a major topic of discussion.

Arviat North–Whale Cove MLA John Main told members, “I would like to talk about the coronavirus. I am personally very
concerned about it now. In thinking about the people of Nunavut, we know there are elders and government staff, people on income support, and people who live in overcrowded houses.”

He also pointed out that Nunavummiut are not predisposed to social distancing.

“In English it’s stated, social distancing, which is don’t go visiting around too much when there’s a cold happening,” Main said. “It is not our culture as Nunavummiut to not visit other people. We’re always inviting people and we’re always getting invited to go eat. It is not our culture at all to not visit. However, this virus is very serious. I would like my constituents to be careful and be aware of this.”

In Nunavut’s capitol, Iqaluit City Council has taken some limited steps. All non-essential work travel has been cancelled and some
recreation programs are suspending for the time being. All city recreational facilities remain open.

The run on retail stores seen in the south has not yet struck Nunavut, though Northwest company stores are limiting the purchase of toilet paper, cough medicine and disinfectant wipes to one per household.

Inuit Tapariit Kanatami (ITK), the national advocacy group for Inuit, is urging the federal government to consider Inuit at extra risk for COVID-19.

In a statement Thursday ITK noted “[l]ong standing social and economic inequities mean that Inuit communities could be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and should be a priority for allocation of resources.”

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