Nunavut revises COVID-19 social distancing rules

New rules clarify circumstances where gathering is permitting

Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, announces updates to an order that restricts social gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Meagan Deuling)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Government of Nunavut has replaced an open-ended ban on gatherings of any kind with a more limited ban on social gatherings of more than five people to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Residents can get together for dinner, to play sports, to have play dates, or to engage in cultural activities.

However, the GN continues to strongly recommend that people avoid gathering unless it’s with members of their immediate households.

The new rules come from the Government of Nunavut’s revised public health order, released on April 24, respecting social distancing and gatherings.

An earlier order was issued on March 23, after the GN enacted a public health emergency on March 20.

Under the Public Health Act, the GN is allowed to create orders that restrict movement and gatherings for the sake of public safety.

Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said the original order restricted social gatherings altogether, and needed to be clarified.

“Saying zero was too impractical and too confusing for people and led to things like, ‘Could two coworkers go across the street to get coffee from Quick Stop?’” Patterson said.

Allowing gatherings of five seems to be the national standard, he said, “so it seems appropriate under our current circumstances to go with that number.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association sent a letter on April 8 to Nunavut’s justice minister, saying the original ban on social gathering was so broad that it was unconstitutional.

That’s because, the association said, the ban didn’t define what a public gathering was.

Patterson announced the revised order in a statement read out during the GN’s COVID-19 update on Monday, April 27. In it, he said the new order doesn’t mean restrictions are being loosened, or that the GN has re-assessed Nunavut’s position or tolerance for the risk of COVID-19

Instead, he said the territory is bringing itself in line with what other jurisdictions are doing, and making its measures clearer and more consistent to apply and enforce.

“It is strongly recommended that Nunavummiut limit contact with anyone who is not a member of their immediate household,” Patterson said.

“Any social gathering carries a degree of risk.”

Under the new order, the size limit for social gatherings doesn’t apply to people who don’t have their own home who are temporarily staying in someone else’s home, or individuals travelling in a vehicle together, “provided that the number of passengers does not exceed the number of seats available.”

You can read the order here to see the full list of exceptions.

Businesses that remain open must have enough room that customers can keep two metres apart, or the business must limit customers to five at a time.

These businesses are groceries stores, gas stations, pharmacies, post offices and banks.

Restaurants may remain open for takeout and delivery.

Hair salons and massage therapy businesses will remain closed. Dentists, vets and psychologists will too, except in cases of emergency.

Municipal parks, public playgrounds and day-use areas in territorial parks remain closed.

The new order clarified that essential service providers can gather with less than two metres between them, but only if there is no other option, which is the overall intention of the order. These include people like health-care workers, the RCMP, child protection workers, municipal employees and people who work at the Qulliq Energy Corp.

The new order also said the two-metre restriction doesn’t apply in public places like the airport, or Iqaluit’s beer and wine store, which has its own strict physical distancing measures.

The RCMP, bylaw officers, conservation officers and sheriffs will enforce the rules laid out in the order. Penalties that can be laid only by RCMP include fines up to $50,000 and six months in jail.

The other enforcement bodies can lay fine of $575 for a first offence to individuals, and $2,875 as a first offence to corporations.

Bylaw officers in Kugluktuk have gone into private homes to break up card games, giving people warnings and educating them about the danger of gathering at this time.

Patterson said that since the first order was enacted over a month ago, nobody has been charged or ticketed, and that the intent of the order isn’t to penalize the public.

The new order gives those enforcing it a “clear cut-off for when to stop and educate people,” Patterson said, “or make an intervention to try and limit the risk that a gathering presents.”

Patterson said that the public health emergency has to be re-enacted every two weeks or it will expire. So the original order was renewed on April 3 and 17 and replaced on April 24.

He said he will keep renewing the emergency act until the threat of COVID-19 lessens, or if more strict measures are needed, for example, if COVID-19 is discovered in Nunavut.

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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by John WP Murphy on

    “The new order also said the two-metre restriction doesn’t apply in public places like the airport, or Iqaluit’s beer and wine store.” ??.
    Ok confuse the old man here. Not that I am in any lineup at the beer and wine store, but is this saying the 2 meter social distancing DOES or DOES NOT apply there.? If it does not apply, I will guarantee where the first case is coming from.

    • Posted by Biogenesis at the B-dub on

      So, if people stand too close at the Beer & Wine Store line-up, SARS-CoV-2 will invoke itself from thin air?

  2. Posted by Itsme on

    So gatherings of up to 5 is not a ok? Or its is ok but not recommend ?

  3. Posted by Paul Kaludjak on

    Mr Doctor:

    If u visit the communities gathering of 5 is automatic violation. Many households have 5 or more up to 15 or more some living in one unit or one public housing due 2 shortage of housing in Nunavut that continues 2 be in crisis , i have seen over the years. Any one of them catching covid-19 would devastate the family. I wanted u to understand this.

    • Posted by The Old Trapper on

      Paul, I’m pretty sure that the good doctor is aware of the large families in Nunavut, and I’m also sure that limiting gatherings to 5 or less people refers to 5 people that do not live in the same house.
      It’s also pretty irrelevant what the GN says as people in Nunavut are going to do what they WANT to do instead of what they SHOULD do.
      The only hopes are;
      1. The coronavirus is kept out of Nunavut until a vaccine is developed.
      2. That a vaccine is developed.
      I think that the likelihood of #1 holding true for the long term is less than a 10% chance, especially with returning patients (and teachers??).
      I think that the odds of developing a vaccine that protects against the coronavirus is only about 25%. Influenza vaccines are only partially protective and it’s a guessing game each year whether the scientists have added the right strains of virus to incorporate into the vaccine.
      One thing is certain however, if the coronavirus ever does reach Nunavut it is likely to be devastating.

      • Posted by Jeff on

        I agree with you on all points. You should be writing your own column at the newspaper.

        • Posted by The Old Trapper on

          Hahaha, Nunatsiaq News would have to develop a special “sarcasm font” for me.

  4. Posted by Northener on

    OPEN OUR PARK!!!!!! It’s all we have for a nice sunday drive, their is no reason it should be blocked off to the public, people are still walking the road without any inforcement action taken so why can’t we drive it

  5. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Parking lots/roads are usually closed because people will drive to the park, park their vehicles, get out, and then likely congregate with their friends who have done the exact same thing. People are inherently lazy.
    Kind of hard to stop people walking, and it’s not against any law or recommendation, just remember to keep 2 meters away from me!!!

  6. Posted by Tommy on

    The government aspires complete control of Nunavummiut where they like to give out orders all the while assisting them with meager resources. Nunavut is 100% controlled government state. My freedom of speech.

  7. Posted by Earth to Minister Hickes? on

    Can minister of health communicate with the minister of beer and wine store. When hundreds of people are lined up outside the store without regard for social distancing it defeats the purpose of all the other measures elsewhere. Start delivering the booze like any other business to avoid the unnecessary risk to all. I see the 52 Wisconsin voters who were forced to line up a few weeks go now have the virus. When is Nunavut going to learn from this?

    • Posted by Andy on

      We drove by the Beer and Wine Store an hour ago and customers were skin on skin in the waiting line prior to the area where two buckets were placed to “enforce” distance. We now have our first case in Nunavut and yet people just don’t care. Since the Beer and Wine Store is run by the GN, you’d think they also would look after the enforcement of social distancing. People in front of Ventures, the Northern and children playing closely together. I thinks it’s everybody’s guess what will happen. Like Forrest Gump said, Stupid is As Stupid does. Wake up people or we possible see a huge reduction of Nunavut’s population. Live is just too valuable to throw it away.

      • Posted by Paul Murphy on

        Andy – BINGO I thought I was alone.

  8. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Dr Patterson: The only problem is we are confusing your recommendations with orders/rules etc. And lets not ignore enforcement.
    My suggestion, the majority of us understand common sense at home. What we do here, I hope is common sense. At home, the majority have got the message
    However regardless of recommendations/direction/rules, if enforcement is not going to take place, and people are saying to you TOUGH.
    Northern stores doesn’t care about your recommendations nor that of Dr. Tam.
    Tape on the floor and flimsy partial partitions don’t help. Many of the employees are not wearing gloves nor if they are wearing them, they don’t change them. One of two might wear masks (sometimes). Yet they are all handling our food. I won’t mention the crowds of loiterers outside and many others standing there waiting for taxis. (and smoking if not dealing).
    Recommendations are going nowhere. Local businesses and hamlet councils need to be ordered to enforce. Where is Worker’s Comp in all this? Certainly not protecting the health of the workers.
    This is all very discouraging.

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