Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq levi announced a travel restriction on the territory that is, so far, the strictest in the country in an effort to keep out the COVID-19 virus that is spreading across Canada.
Starting Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. ET, only Nunavut residents will be permitted to fly into the territory.
Those residents who wish to return will have to spend 14 days in isolation in Winnipeg, Yellowknife, Ottawa or Edmonton, before being permitted to return to Nunavut.
An exemption is being made for “critical” workers who can get a note from the territory’s chief public health officer.
In Monday’s daily briefing for Nunavummiut, Savikataaq said that 111 people have been tested for Covid-19.
Forty-three of those tests are back, and there has still not been a positive result.
The briefings now take place on the Nunavut Assembly floor to allow for the contents to be broadcast daily all over the territory, in the same way Nunavut’s Assembly hearings are.
Residents will be put into hotels in one of those four hub locations and monitored for symptoms for 14 days. They will receive three meals a day.
They will also be monitored for compliance with the self-isolation.
“We will be monitoring, with security guards, those who will be placed in these regional centres, to ensure that they do not break quarantine,” said Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes.
These restrictions are in addition to previous measures taken by Nunavut to limit the potential spread of Covid-19.
“I want to remind everyone and make it clear, it is also necessary that everyone who arrived to the territory as of March 15th, still needs to self-isolate,” said Savikataaq. “Social distancing and staying home as much as possible is not a recommendation. It is necessary to keep our Nunavut healthy. Do it for you. Do it for our elders. Do it for the children.
“Do it for all of us.”
How well the premier’s plea is being followed is hard to measure.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson admits it has been a challenge.
“[Compliance] is variable. I think some people are doing a great job following it, and have changed habits and behaviours in tremendous ways. However, I do know of individuals who have asked for testing and we deemed it necessary to test them, and instead of isolating themselves at home, they’ve gone back to work.
“Which is quite concerning because if the risk is high enough that you need to be tested, you need to go home and wait it out.”
(Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq addressed Nunavummiut about the government response to the Covid-19 virus)
Patterson had some direct praise for Nunavut’s retailers, many of which have put in their own steps and restrictions in keeping with the overall plan.
“Many of these businesses have adapted their business model in creative ways I would have never expected a few weeks ago,” he said.
Many Nunavut stores now have tape marking how far apart you should stay while in line for the checkout.
The Northwest Company – the biggest retailer in Nunavut – announced a $2 per hour raise for their frontline workers.
Iqaluit’s Northmart is now delivering to residents who can’t leave the house under medical order.
If residents don’t follow the advice of the health department, there are other steps available.
“People have been asking ‘How do you enforce self-isolation in communities?’ We’re putting our trust in Nunavummiut to follow the public health order, and stay home,” said Hickes. “If they don’t? We have measures we can enact to patrol the streets if necessary.”
Penalties for individuals breaking public health orders can be as high as $50,000, or up to a year in jail.
“We have these powers, but our energy is better spent on planning and preparing to help the sick,” said Hickes.
“Because of the public health emergency that was declared last week, we can issue directives to the airlines, as to who is allowed to board in Ottawa and other points of departure into Nunavut. Everybody getting on to those planes, one way or another, will be reviewed by staff associated with the [Nunavut] department of health.
“We will provide a letter to those individuals to allow them to get on the plane,” said Patterson.
According to Patterson, the 111 tests for Covid-19 Nunavut has conducted have cast a wide net to detect the virus.
“Right now, we are being more aggressive or more loose with our case definition than our counterparts in the south. We are testing people with only mild symptoms, or minimal exposure, because we want to find it,” he said.
“When we find it, we will then test all of the people who have been in contact with that individual as we can, and put them under isolation.”
When Nunavut does receive a positive result for Covid-19, the Patterson reconfirmed today that he will tell the public which community the case was found in.
Over the weekend, the Yukon territory received two positive results, but wouldn’t tell the public which communities they were found in.
Patterson said telling the public is good public health.
“If I say that there is Covid-19 in Nunavut, there will be 38,000 people in 25 communities that will be quite concerned, and the pressure will be high on every health centre across the territory to increase testing,” he said.
The unique circumstances surrounding Covid-19 were what made Patterson decide that he will name a community if a case is found, saying, “this is a break from some other protocols and this is something I have not done with other communicable diseases. In order to lighten the load on the other 24 communities, we will announce it. We will not announce much more than that, the individuals do have a right to privacy.”
The two confirmed cases are in the Yukon are Yukoners that recently flew back to Whitehorse from a convention they attended in the United States.
The individuals were made aware of possible infection during the convention and went into self-isolation as soon as they arrived home.
They are said to be doing well.
The news comes one day after the first confirmed case of COVID 19 was discovered in the Northwest Territories.