COVID-19 pushes Nunavut to the ‘breaking point,’ Akeeagok says

Territory to ask for federal help with contact tracing, testing

Three people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the disease was detected again in Nunavut on Dec. 21, chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says. The In less than 10 days, the number of active cases has spread from zero to 74 and has been confirmed in eight communities. (File photo by David Lochead)

By Corey Larocque

Nunavut is approaching a “breaking point” as COVID-19 continues its spread across the territory, with the number of active cases doubling overnight and arriving in three more communities, Premier P.J. Akeeagok says.

“With active cases in eight communities, we are approaching a breaking point in terms of our health-care capacity,” Akeeagok said Wednesday morning during a public update at the legislative assembly.

The premier added he is working on a proposal to ask the federal government for more assistance for nurses, support staff, contact tracing, personal protective equipment and housing.

There are 74 active cases in eight communities, Akeeagok said during a public update Wednesday morning at the legislative assembly. Arviat, Baker Lake and Igloolik joined the list of five communities where cases have been confirmed.

On Tuesday, the Government of Nunavut reported 37 active cases. Last Friday there were eight. The first cases in the latest wave were reported on Dec. 21.

As of Wednesday, the number of active cases in each community stood at:

  • Iqaluit — 25
  • Rankin Inlet — 22
  • Sanirajak — 9
  • Pangnirtung — 9
  • Arviat — 6
  • Qikiqtarjuaq — 1
  • Baker Lake — 1
  • Igloolik — 1

It’s not yet known if any of those cases are a result of the fast-spreading Omicron variant, chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said. It typically takes between a week and 10 days for testing to determine if a case is the result of a variant, he added.

Three patients have been hospitalized, Patterson said.

The biggest strain on Nunavut’s health-care system at the moment is related to contact tracing — the process of finding other people that someone diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in contact with.

“Our ability to identify and follow all the threads of transmission is being hampered by the sheer volume,” Patterson said.

Hospital workers have not yet been strained the same way that contact tracing staff have. But without adequate contact tracing, there’s “a risk of uncontrolled spread” of COVID-19 to people who are at a higher risk of contracting the disease or to front-line workers in “key industries.”

The spread prompted the Government of Nunavut to extend its lockdown by 10 days to Jan. 17. Schools will remain closed until then and only “critically essential” government workers will be working in offices, Akeeagok said.

The premier said he is working with the territory’s Human Resources Department to figure out which government offices will be closed and which GN employees can work from home during the lockdown.

Both Akeeagok and Patterson paid tribute to health-care workers, many of whom worked through their second Chirstmas period instead of spending time with their families. Patterson said two years of “increased stress” among health-care workers has led to a “shifting of jobs” within the sector, while an increased demand for nurses, doctors and other workers has added pressure to Nunavut’s health-care sector, Patterson said.

“There’s just not enough staff to go around right now,” he said.

They called for Nunavummiut to be patient with health-care workers who, Akeeagok said, are working “around the clock” to give tests and do contact tracing.

“They are doing their best to respond in a timely manner,” Akeeagok said.

The premier and chief public health officer repeated their pleas for Nunavummiut to follow public health advice, including staying home, avoiding public gatherings, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated and getting a booster shot, and getting tested when they’re showing symptoms.

“Staying home is the best way to stop the spread of this virus,” Akeeagok said.

He and Patterson are scheduled to give their next update on the COVID-19 situation on Jan. 6 at 11 a.m

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(45) Comments:

  1. Posted by Tim on

    I know everyone is tired of Covid but it’s getting serious here in Nunavut, I wanted to know if there are restrictions for how many people can go into the stores? I have been noticing the stores mainly Ventures being full of people. So many people in close quarters to each other.
    I understand it was Boxing Day and people need to go shopping but it was crazy full the last few day. Not sure if there are restrictions in place for such things.

    • Posted by Alan jones on

      First i know its serious for peoplez coming from its ok to shutt down but what about beer and wines store and bars where the peoples are close to eavh other and not wearing mask what about that thoses placez should shutt down to cause a lots of case came from there to

  2. Posted by Northern on

    What will happen when everyone from the south returns..shut it down!

    • Posted by Okay on

      Probably bring less covid than the first people who brought it up in the first place.

  3. Posted by Help! on

    We are doomed!..keep all southerners out…make everyone isolate before going back.!

    • Posted by Baffin on

      No social distancing even when getting Boosters at HC in Arviat.
      First train the frontline then the community.
      Nunavut has the lowest rate of vaccinations in Canada.
      Figure it out😷

  4. Posted by Useless Leadership on

    The Premier and CPHO are urging even triple vac travellers to isolate on return. Let me guess, that is going on on my mandatory vacation leave like it was for the hubs? Or even leave without pay? Not a chance I or anyone should be isolating and paying for it but this is what happened last time for all us ‘selfish’ people who recalled south. Even though I can do my job remotely from Afghanistan if it came to it does it seem to matter to leadership.
    The biggest issue the GN has is that The Dept of Human Resources plays hard ball with staff working remotely, even in 2022 when it is normal and even expected across Canada. The easiest option in the world the GN can use to curb incoming cases is to tell all staff not physically essential to stay in the south and work remotely for the time being. They won’t ever do this because of outdated ideas that somehow remote work will ‘steal’ Inuit opportunities (the irony is almost all of HR management are southern consultants working from Ontario). This is a great example of how politics will prevail over science, and where doctor Patterson will never suggest this because of contrarian viewpoints from other departments.

    • Posted by Observer on

      It’s not just staff out of the south facing this problem: the GN won’t allow staff who live in Nunavut and are here right now to work remotely either. Which is bloody stupid.

    • Posted by Name withheld on

      You want to be able to work from home or be given the option to work from isolation on your way back to Nunavut ?

      Why not stay put where you are at and find work elsewhere where it’s allowed ? Instead of complaining about the GN.

      No one is forcing you to do all those. Don’t like it? Stay put than.

      • Posted by Useless Leadership on

        In case you haven’t noticed there has been a massive departure of staff from the GN going over to greener pastures where remote work is permitted. Why did I not stay put? Because I am not a hermit and there were no travel restrictions or advisories. Heck, the Premier and MLAs all travelled around outside of Iqaluit just a few weeks ago, why shouldn’t I? Oh right, because they can all work from home and get paid but for some reason many staff are not afforded the same right.

  5. Posted by Hai? on

    Given that there is strain on our health care system and we are “approaching a breaking point”, is the planned vaccine mandate for the Department of Health still in effect? I would hope not and would think that keeping health care staff would be more important than firing (“forced leave without pay” or “forced resignation”) them just because of their vaccination status.

    Also, can the public please get more information about the Covid-19 cases in Nunavut (age ranges and vaccination status) and can the public get more information about these patients that were hospitalized (age range, vaccination status, comorbidities, etc.)? This information is provided in other jurisdictions and more transparency here in Nunavut would be appreciated.

  6. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Take a look at what is happening in the rest of Canada, just about every province has all time high numbers of new cases. Omicron is doubling every 3 days.
    Not to be an alarmist, but it is likely that this is just the start of this wave of infection. It does seem to be milder – provided you have been vaccinated, preferably triple vaccinated.
    For anyone who is not yet vaccinated you might just want to reconsider your decision. Hopefully Nunavut will get federal help, I suspect that you will need it.
    I would also suggest to Premier Akeeagok, Dr. Patterson, the rest of Cabinet, and to every MLA that you be on the radio daily providing updates and reassurance. It will be easy for this to get out of hand and waiting a week until your next “update” is far too long.

  7. Posted by tuktuborel on

    OK so the current recommendation for those vaccinated residents returning to Nunavut from the south is to isolate upon arrival (which I agree with) and self test after so many days. Well that makes sense. The problem though is “where are the Rapid Test Kits”? Everyone does not live in Iqaluit and travel through the airport there. In the Western Arctic there are no kits available to the public. Why is this? Didn’t the Feds provide Nunavut with Test Kits? Of course they did.
    Please provide the Rapid Test Kits, they can be very useful. What is the GN waiting for?

  8. Posted by Yikes on

    I’m not trying to be rude or anything but I don’t think the feds can bail you out now.. the whole country is struggling particularly with nursing shortages. There isn’t a pool of nurses sitting around at home waiting to bail out the North,

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      Get all the GN employees who are working from home to help with contact tracing. We don’t need to use unnecessary resources from the south when we have so many GN employees who are not essential and collecting a pay cheque. Use your own resources

      • Posted by Yikes on


        Lay people can also be trained to do swabs! Or other clinical health care providers, paramedics, fire fighters, clerk interpreters, home support workers, lab techs, etc etc! That’s what they’ve had to do in the south!
        Time to get creative nunavut!

        • Posted by Snowl on

          They aren’t using or hiring nursing students unlike other jurisdictions.

  9. Posted by Wondering on

    Where us the rapid tests? It is required to isolate for 14days and do tests. Where is the tests? Not the 8-10 day turn around tests. The rapid tests?

  10. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Maybe the GN should get off its collective duffs and start making rapid tests available to employers and individuals in the territory. We’re not imbeciles, we know how to use them and what procedures to follow in the case of a positive result.

  11. Posted by Alan Klie on

    I think it’s important not to panic and look at the results overall. Are things more serious than they were last month, absolutely yes, but are things more serious when compared to the start of the pandemic, I don’t think so. We have 74 active cases (maybe more undiagnosed) and only 3 people in hospital; that’s a pretty good ratio. We’re also not as immunologically naive as we were at the beginning of the pandemic. While there is still a significant portion of Nunavummiut who aren’t vaccinated (which I cannot understand except for valid medical reasons), the majority of the population is. If this is Omicron, then it’s a substantially more mild for of COVID-19. The evidence from around the world is it’s about 5 times less severe but about 5 times more contagious. The fact is, though, that prior vaccination with boosting, while not offering as effective protection, still offers excellent protection against severe and/or fatal outcomes. Even the original outbreak of COVID-19 did not result in large numbers of Nunavummiut dying (it was less than 1% or about half the world average) or the health system being overwhelmed. While we are still on the upswing of this wave, there are indications from South Africa that they’ve crested their wave. I suspect this wave will go on for another few weeks, probably to the end of January, and then the numbers will start to fall again as those who have gone through the illness develop their immunity. I also suspect this will be the last great wave of COVID-19 as the CDC said that immunity acquired from Omicron infection probably gives great immunity against COVID-19 generally. Also, there are variant-proof vaccines in the work probably,y available in mid-2022.

  12. Posted by Here we go again! on

    According to Federal regulation only people fully vacinated are permitted to board a plane and they recommended against all non-essential travel. It seems to me that just prior to this resurgence there was a great deal of travel in and out and all around by the general public as well as many politicians. The current state of affairs should surprise no one, you can’t play with fire and not expect to get burned!!

  13. Posted by Testing is Important on

    Rapid Tests are a valuable tool when dealing with Covid. Where can we get our hands on Rapid Tests? Especially for those whom are travelling by air from Alberta

  14. Posted by Richard Smith on

    Why all the panic – 74 active cases, 3 hospitalized, none in icu and no deaths.
    This is obviously the mild omicron variety which symptoms are between the common cold and flu.
    I personally had it and took about a week to recover and was up and around the house every day. Now I have the natural antibodies.
    Follow the public health advice to avoid getting it is the best line of defense.
    Contact tracing is a waste of time and resources.

    • Posted by KM on

      The reason for the “panic” is this: just three people needed to go to hospital? Here’s the number of hospital beds (ie, real hospital beds) available in Nunavut:

      Iqaluit – 35
      Arctic Bay – 0; Arviat – 0; Baker Lake – 0; Cambridge Bay – 0; Chesterfield Inlet – 0; Clyde River – 0; Coral Harbour – 0; Gjoa Haven – 0; Grise Fiord – 0; Igloolik – 0; Kimmirut – 0; Kinngait – 0; Kugaruuk – 0; Kugluktuk – 0; Naujaat – 0; Pangirtung – 0; Pond Inlet – 0; Qikiqtarjuaq – 0; Rankin Inlet – 0; Sanikiluaq – 0; Sanirajak – 0; Taloyoak-0; and Whale Cover – 0.

      *EVERY SINGLE PERSON* outside Iqaluit who needs to go into a hospital bed has to be flown either to Iqaluit or down south. So you really better hope the weather is clear, the limited number of medevac aircraft and crews have someone available.

      That’s why the serious concern. Those who have inside knowledge of Nunavut’s operational realities when it comes to medical care know how fragile it is if a large number of people suddenly need it at once.

      • Posted by Not true on

        If they are in hospital in Iqaluit, they are not severe cases. Nunavut tend to medevac their severe cases. So yeah doesn’t warrant the panic of a lockdown!

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      Sorry to break it to you but SARs/Coronviruses confer very little in the way of immunity via conteact

      • Posted by Northern Guy on

        What I was trying to say was that SARs/Coronviruses confer very little long term immunity through antibody production. Over time you are just as likely to recontract Covid or any other SARs type virus as someone who has never been exposed to virus

        • Posted by Alan Klie on

          Maybe not through antibody production but I think the research is showing increased long-term immunity, or at least against severe outcomes, from T-cell immunity. It’s not as quick to respond as antibody immunity but it does have a longer memory. Antibodies aren’t the only resource the body musters against infections.

  15. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    Work from home, how many people would wake up, text at 8:30am they are working or send an obligatory email then take a 3 hour nap. If they even bothered to try.

    It was the worst productivity in the history of the GN, and that’s seriously saying something. Now not all, but a damn serious portion.

    The world juniors being cancelled was sad, but let’s be honest, with omicron wreaking havoc in Edmonton I do not look forward to people returning to Nunavut after New Years. Only the start people.

    • Posted by You are monitored. on

      My cousin does W@H and he is monitored on the company PC. So they can’t tell there’s a 3 hour gap in his work day.

    • Posted by Eastern Kabloona on

      Anyone who is able to avoid scrutiny by their management is likely not in any position worth having. There are so many redundant or useless positions in the GN that could easily be replaced by software that these types of jobs should be eliminated.

  16. Posted by not amused on

    People traveling before Christmas to join their friends/family down south to me is call ‘ignorance’. Can they not see that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon? More so, the COVID across NWT and Nunavut is spreading, not only here but across Canada and the world. Spending time with family/friends is important to most but please think twice before traveling to join them. Continue to social distancing, wash your hands & stay home.

    • Posted by Sadinuk on

      Its is sad and ignorance ilaa for people traveling south for christmas, they are risking their lives and others….I cannot even go see my grandchildren that are here from another kitikmeot community, my poor family is being frowned on because they try to go visit but they get frowned at….so they have been isolating since they came home, so lock your selves at home and keep to your selves

  17. Posted by Reader of news on

    Wait until the end of 2022 , then make your assumptions ppl of the territory. “Accept the things we cannot change “ Everything will change …. Maybe except the ones who believe their immunity is stronger than normal ppl. This virus has no end until it does its sweep across our globe. Prayers for humanity. We inuit should be isolated a-lot more on the lands then staying in town waiting for mail , Kia org need to bring back outposts camps for its people to stay away from infection and teach our younger generations about life in the land and not wait for things to happen .

    • Posted by Reader as well on

      Nowadays inuit that were brought into community living are not in any hurry to return to the lands they come from.
      What is an out post camp ? Is that where all inuit come from ?
      Everyone nowadays believes the lands are empty.

  18. Posted by Tim Watley on

    Lots of talk (excuses) about “limited capacity”, “lack of infrastructure” and the system being “overwhelmed”, but you know what? When (if) this Covid thing is over the politicians and bureaucrats will make absolutely no effort to improve these deficiencies and they can then use the same tired excuses the next time we have a pandemic.

  19. Posted by S on

    Nearly two years of extraordinary theatre about typical coronaviruses (the common cold) and influenza. More proof that the masses are blatantly unobservant, easily cowed, and alarmingly gullible; worse than that, more proof that our handlers are keen to use the media and politicians to take advantage of our failings

  20. Posted by The perfect storm on

    Unfortunately from an epidemiological standpoint, we are literally in the middle of a perfect storm. Here in Canada’s third world, the combination of a housing shortage, dire socioeconomic issues, rampant comorbidities and insufficient infrastructure due to isolation are all at play to potentially cause significant mortality. Our hub city is in a province that is topping 8-9k new cases PER DAY. We need to take this seriously. For those of you out there saying that we need to “stop panicking” and “get back to normal”; you need to give your heads a shake. These are unprecedented times and we are in real danger. We need to work together and sacrifice our small comforts for the greater good. We are in dire times, but if we all work together, we can beat this.

    • Posted by What danger? on

      Give your head a shake. Almost 2 years in, we know more about this virus than on day 1. But Nunavut decides to lockdown and 14 days quarantine for fully vaccinated minus booster. The anti-Vaxxer are having a field day with that statement . We know omnicron its way more transmissible seeing the high jumps in case counts but it’s also way milder. Hospitalisation and death counts should be looked at more when deciding on public health measures. Our ´hub’ city with thousand of cases are all business as usual with masking, capacity limits with vax passport. The whole lockdown measure is a huge step backwards and judging from daily case counts, people are too tired to care anymore.

      • Posted by The Old Trapper on

        One major problem with your scenario is that hospitalizations, ICU admittance, and death are all lagging indicators.
        Generally the virus progression been 7 – 10 days before hospital admission, 7 – 10 days before ICU admission, and 7 – 10 days before recovery or death.. In a lot of ICU cases patients would show significant improvement before relapsing and ultimately dying.
        I really do hope that Omicron is milder, and the vaccines provide some protection. However don’t forget that most kids under 12 have not been vaccinated yet, and kids under 5 are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
        I would prefer to err on the side of caution – Covid-19 has been unpredictable.

  21. Posted by Remote Work – Nunavut Needs To Get With It on

    Nunavut needs to get with the times! The fact that the GN and so many companies in the North have an issue with people working remotely despite the fact that everywhere in the world is doing this to curb the pandemic is RIDICULOUS!
    I understand the Territory wants to hold on to the tradition of people coming into the office to work but we are dealing with a devastating pandemic where people need to be able to social distance and isolate! Start implementing resources and technology so that people can work from home and stop looking down on remote work when the majority of the MLAs, Premiers, and Directors are working remotely and traveling regularly to the South.

    • Posted by Internet on

      The 900 – 1,200 ms ping on internet up here makes remote work rather difficult. Also most places down south recommend 100 Mb/s download speeds. What’s Nunavuts download speed? Roughly 15 Mb/s? With upload being a dismal 1-3 Mb/s

  22. Posted by Umingmak on

    Akeeagok claims that the healthcare system is “at its breaking point”, but he and Patterson refuse to produce the important statistics. Case counts show nothing, and are completely irrelevant. The only statistics that matter are: How many cases have resulted in hospitalizations or stays in the ICU?

    The VAST majority of those who are infected with this virus have something between absolutely no symptoms at all, and symptoms no different from the common cold. Very few people have serious symptoms.

    Without the proper statistics, what the GN is doing here can be constituted as nothing more than fearmongering for the sake of justifying their tyrannical and archaic “public health measures”.


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