GN ‘confident’ Nunavut can handle COVID-19 without most restrictions
Public health officer says he understands some won’t be comfortable with decision
COVID-19 is manageable now without masks and restrictions, despite some people’s concerns Nunavut’s public health emergency measures might be ending too soon, says chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson.
“I understand that some will be worried about these changes, but we are confident that we are in a place where we can start living normally again,” he said in a COVID-19 virtual press conference Thursday.
Patterson also said the territory will soon announce details on how people can get a second booster shot.
The Health Department confirmed Wednesday the territory’s public health emergency will be lifted April 11, after originally announcing that date in early March. It had been in place since March 18, 2020.
That means most – but not all — restrictions, including the mask mandate and gathering size limits, will be lifted.
Masks will still be required in health clinics, Patterson said, adding businesses can decide for themselves if they want to enforce capacity restrictions or require customers to be masked.
The Education Department is keeping a policy to require masks in schools and on school buses, according to Education Minister Pamela Gross.
The Department of Human Resources is also keeping masks in place for GN employees while they are in common areas. But they won’t have to do a daily COVID-19 self-assessment or sign in and out of their office, Human Resources Minister Margaret Nakashuk said.
Health Minister John Main said he understands some people are concerned about restrictions being lifted, and said he is also worried.
“I’m still concerned about COVID-19 in terms of my own family and my own contacts, my own workplace, and I plan on continuing to take precautions,” he said.
Ultimately, Nunavut residents have the resources and tools necessary to live with COVID-19, he said.
Both Main and Patterson have recommended on multiple occasions residents should continue to wear masks, avoid gatherings if they feel sick, and get vaccinated.
Currently, 83 per cent of Nunavut residents aged 5 and up have received at least two vaccine doses and 50 per cent aged 12 and up have their booster shots, according to the Health Department.
“As restrictions come to an end, it will still be important to remain careful and cautious in the months ahead,” Main said, adding people who choose to keep wearing masks shouldn’t be shamed for that decision.
Nunavut is joining several other provinces and territories by lifting the mask mandate and loosening restrictions.
Manitoba lifted its mask mandate in most indoor places March 15, N.W.T. on April 1 and Ontario on March 21.
Ontario is likely experiencing approximately 100,000 new cases per day, experts say, as well as rising hospitalizations, and is in its sixth wave of COVID-19.
Nunavut’s Health Department is monitoring the fallout of provinces that have lifted restrictions, which is partly why masks will still be mandatory at schools and in government workplaces, Patterson said.
His department will also look at health centre capacities and the frequency of medevacs in the territory to determine how the disease is affecting residents.
If necessary, the government can issue local states of emergency in communities experiencing an outbreak, rather than imposing territory-wide measures, Patterson said.
Meanwhile, Gross confirmed schools are expected to get ventilation system upgrades through funding from the federal government.
Clarification: This story has been updated to specify that the Department of Education and Department of Human Resources policies are not related to the public health order.