Government of Nunavut braces for COVID-19

“We have to prepare for the fact of its arrival,” says chief medical officer of health

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq demonstrates social distancing at a news conference in Iqaluit on Monday, March 16. Also with him, from left, are Health Minister George Hickes; Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief medical officer of health; and Education Minister David Joanasie. (Photo by Meagan Deuling)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The COVID-19 virus will make its way to Nunavut—it’s not a question of “if,” but “when.”

The Government of Nunavut is now bracing for this eventuality, officials said in a news conference on Monday afternoon in Iqaluit.

Premier Joe Savikataaq reiterated the advice of health officials: wash your hands often with soap and water, cough into your elbow, maintain social distancing, don’t shake hands or kiss babies, and call your medical centre if you have any flu-like symptoms.

Savikataaq also asked mothers not to chew their babies’ food.

“Just do the common-sense approach and try to keep the spread down to the minimum, because when it comes we want to make sure we are prepared,” he said.

Earlier on Monday the GN announced that all schools and daycares in the territory will be closed for three weeks.

“This isn’t something that we took lightly,” chief medical officer Michael Patterson said at the news conference.

But he said that in order to reduce the chance of transmission into communities, they thought closing schools was the right step.

“We do need to remind everyone affected by this that this should be viewed as very different than spring break,” Patterson said.

That means children should avoid gathering in large groups. But he did say that playing outside in small groups is good—playing hockey, or going out on the land, for example.

The GN will reassess the closure in three weeks, and then every two weeks after that.

The GN is trying to figure out how to continue to feed students who rely on school lunch programs for healthy meals.

“At this point we haven’t dived into any details,” said Education Minister David Joanasie, “but it’s something that’s on the table, if there are volunteers who want to provide service.”

GN employees who have children in school and need to take time off to care for them will be supported, Savikataaq said, and they are encouraged to work from home or take flex hours.

Nunavut Arctic College is staying open for the time being, because their classes are smaller and the students are older and more mature, so social distancing is easier. Plus, the impacts of closing the college is greater on students. “Their skills are needed,” Patterson said.

Patterson said they want the students to finish their courses and get into the workforce.

However, there is currently no plan in place to help support college students who may have kids out of school in the coming weeks.

“Everything is evolving and changing so rapidly,” said Joanasie. “We don’t want anyone to have any hardships.”

The presence of the COVID-19 virus has now been confirmed in all 10 provinces, but in none of the territories.

Patterson said that Nunavummiut have to “prepare for the fact that it will arrive,” and he said that what that looks like depends on how people act.

If people return to the territory after travelling and have symptoms, Patterson implores them to take it seriously. That means don’t keep working and going out in public. Isolate yourself for two weeks.

“If you have symptoms and continue to live as usual, you will spread infections,” he said.

Patterson said the GN is now waiting for results from over 30 tests. They currently have to be sent to a lab in Winnipeg, and it takes up to five days to get results back.

Patterson is hoping that the GN can get its hands on a new way to test—a “commercial analyzer” that he hopes will be available in April. In that case, the GN may be able to carry out testing in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay.

Officials at the news conference reiterated that they want to take care of Nunavummiut, and that this situation is evolving rapidly. To keep the public up to date, they will now be holding a news conference every weekday at 3 p.m.

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northener on

    Is patterson saying they’re waiting on the results of 30 tests as covid-19 may already be in nunavut and they’re waiting for results wich can take up to 5 days. If they think it’s already here waiting 5 days to tell people could be a very big mistake

  2. Posted by Concerned Canadian on

    So all 10 provinces get tested except for the 3 territories? If that’s the case then there probably is one or two in each territory.

    • Posted by iThink on

      It seems likely that it is here already. If not, with all the travel in and out of the territory, some of it by people too oblivious to care, it really is only a matter of time. Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay will obviously be the most susceptible. The real key to containing it is aggressive testing. A 5 day wait is crazy. There are test kits on the market already, they should have been ordered weeks ago. Sad when our leadership is less on the ball than the public itself.

  3. Posted by Require Quarantine on

    Why isn’t the GN protecting itself and workers by allowing all employees the chance to work from home. It’s possible for lost with the new office 365 software. The feds were closed today so why not us?

    Its ridiculous that I have to sit down the hall from people coming back from Asia recently and they don’t need to quarantine. The federal govt has said they should, but no, not the GN.

  4. Posted by Here already most likely on

    Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay Residents traveling daily, in and out of south are not screened. It’s all about money for carriers in the North. Residents come in from Yellowknife and Edmonton daily without screening. It’s probably in both communities. No communication from Government on who is being tested and where they work. All secret. The public should know so extra precautions can be taken.

    • Posted by Joasai on

      Canadian North should be screening all its passengers, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton all has patient boarding homes that travels daily.

  5. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Like every other jurisdiction the politicians in Nunavut are not doing enough but think that they are doing the right thing.
    Let’s review shall we. The first cases was detected in China on 17 November but was not publicized for a couple of weeks. By 20 December there were 60 cases. The whole world knew by 31 December that there was a potential problem. The Chinese locked down Wuhan on 23 January and severely restricted travel, work, and personal movement throughout China. As of today China has had 80,860 infections and 3,208 deaths.
    So China’s experience is that it gets bad fast, and the only way to stop it is to quarantine everyone for 6 weeks to get it under control. Testing is also of paramount importance. Of course China can ramp up their response, a new hospital in Wuhan in 6 days, test kits, get factories and labs to make them in days.
    So why has every country underestimated the response needed?
    First politicians, and the general public, think it won’t get that bad where they are. Whatever country it is, it doesn’t seem to matter, same attitude.
    Second step, tighten up the border and posture that everything will be okay, we are equipped to handle it. Vague suggestions not to travel or to return home, along with cursory checks of people returning from international destinations.
    Third step, start closing borders, telling people to self isolate. Cancelling events, etc. Meanwhile trying to quell public unrest or potential panic. This is where we are now, unfortunately with infections doubling every 2-3 days with no end in sight. The same spot China was in in January, and Italy was in about 2 weeks ago.
    What should have happened in Canada 2 weeks ago was a complete lockdown of the border, yes even the U.S. border except for food and returning citizens. Any returning citizens should have been in a 21 day mandatory quarantine. All non essential services and businesses should have been shut down and people told to stay home with the army enforcing quarantine and curfews for 6 weeks.
    This may yet be needed. My fear is that it is going to get far worse before it gets better. We have a choice, act now or regret it later.
    Just imagine what our country’s reaction would have been if instead of a virus, it was a virus that turned people into zombies in 48 hours? That should guide our actions, well hopefully without all the bloodshed and gory deaths in most zombie movies.

  6. Posted by Kids Playing on

    Here in Kinngait all the kids are outside together in groups sledding and playing street hockey. Social distancing will be a difficult concept when more free-range parenting is practiced. Though With the kids all bundled up maybe it will still slow down spread than being in a small closed classroom all day. Talk to your kids about washing up when they come inside! Good luck to everyone during these challenging times.

  7. Posted by Name withheld on

    Airlines to Nunavut should be limited to Cargo only for the time being.

    MLA’s need to be proactive about this along with closing restaurants and Bars!!

    Along with closing GN offices for the remainder of the month as when one is confirm it will be too late and the health professionals themselves will be infected with the virus to a point where the staff will become short staff and everyone else will be sent home, especially those In emergency cases

    Can Nunavut handle this ?

  8. Posted by Jenn on

    Virus in China has stabilized & very few new cases reported & many recoveries. So virus has a cycle and with proactive efforts can be contained & minimized. Good luck to all.

    • Posted by The Old Trapper on

      The virus does not have a “cycle”, it’s not going to disappear on it’s own. Chine locked down Wuhan and Hubei province. Everything shut down except authorized workers building a new hospital in 6 freaking days. Only one person from each house was allowed to go out for groceries, and everyone in surgical masks. Drones would order people without masks, or not on official duties to go home, and they backed it up with force if needed. Everything closed.
      Travel restrictions were also in place for the rest of the country. It still took them from late December to last week to get the virus under control. Over 80,000 cases and 3,200 deaths later.
      My advice, lock the country down, basically everything except emergency services for 6 weeks.

  9. Posted by The Native on

    Protect our civil servants and allow everyone to work from home. One person can spread to a whole office and then the whole Territory. Do the right thing and send people home. We spent millions on the ransomware do the same to protect our people.

    DO YOUR DAMN JOBS MLA’S and protect our people.

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