Officials in Canada’s northernmost communities are bracing for a potential COVID-19 outbreak after three cases were confirmed in Nunavut in the last week.
The government has tightened restrictions in Kivalliq and the capital city of Iqaluit after an additional case was confirmed in Rankin Inlet Wednesday. Gatherings in the region are now limited to five people, with outdoor activities and gatherings at places of worship restricted to 50 people or half the building’s capacity.
On Thursday, Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, asked residents to avoid any non-essential travel within the territory, especially inter-community travel requiring a stop-over in Rankin Inlet.
Nunavut faces unique challenges in the fight against COVID-19 with many communities only accessible by plane and limited medical resources.
“If you look at Nunavut as a whole, we’ve had the most strict regulations already. Every community here is a fly-in, so we have southern isolation hubs and we will continue doing that,” Kenneth Bell, mayor of Iqaluit, told CTV’s Your Morning Friday.
Two of the territory’s confirmed cases are in the community of Sanikiluaq — one that lacks a proper health centre.
“They do have a brand-new health centre, but it’s not open yet. Their old health centre just doesn’t have the capacity. We don’t have doctors there — there are nurses, of course — but it’s all about capacity,” Bell explained, noting that the community’s airport is so small it’s difficult to fly in medical supplies.
Bell says federal funding has been key in providing resources to communities like Sanikiluaq, supplying additional sanitation supplies and aiding with the high cost of water.
“We’re feeding elders pretty regularly with food baskets,” he said. “A lot of our organizations and our government have all stepped up. We’re all working together to make sure we’re all safe.”
Nunavut’s travel bubble with the Northwest Territories remains in place, and the territory will not be requiring N.W.T. residents to isolate if they travel into Nunavut.
Officials said Thursday they are not releasing the travel history of the confirmed cases, because there have been instances of harassment towards people who have travelled for work or personal reasons.