Gov’t has struggled to support those in isolation hubs, emails show

Department of Health documents detail hospitalizations, a knife attack, harassment of hub staff

The Holiday Inn at 44 Avenue and Gateway Blvd. in Edmonton is one of six isolation hubs maintained by Nunavut’s Health Department for residents in southern Canada awaiting their return to the territory. (Image courtesy of www.ihg.com)

By Randi Beers

Nunavut’s isolation hubs have been heralded as enormously successful at keeping COVID-19 out of the territory, but internal Department of Health emails show officials have struggled to support vulnerable people during their two-week stays.

Incidents of violence and intoxication, as well as assault and harassment of hotel staff, are detailed in 177 pages of emails, memos, incident reports and other documents obtained by Nunatsiaq News from the territorial government’s Department of Health through access to information legislation. The documents range in date between Sept. 1 and Jan. 4.

“I have witnessed people struggling with withdrawal, and demonstrating anger when alcohol is restricted in any way,” stated one representative of Malti Consulting, whose name was redacted from the documents the GN provided, in late November.

Malti Consulting manages the majority of the department’s six isolation hubs, which are located in Edmonton, Yellowknife, Winnipeg and Ottawa.

The email details an increase in verbal, physical and sexual abuse and harassment at one of those hotels, in Ottawa.

In some cases, guests have ended up in hospital, according to the email, and some have had to be separated from each other for their own safety.

“Last night police were called when a guest was intent on harming another guest with a knife,” states the email.

“Fortunately, he dropped it by accident before he could do harm, and police were called. Make no mistake, we have been lucky something more serious has not occurred.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the territorial government has required anybody entering Nunavut to spend two weeks isolating in one of its hubs, with few exceptions.

CBC News recently did its own research into the toll these hubs have had on Nunavummiut, reporting in late March that hundreds of people struggled with the two-week isolation.

The government has accommodated more than 11,000 stays over the course of the past year, according to CBC.

No plan in place

Months into their operation, the Health Department still did not have a written protocol to help struggling guests, according to emails obtained by Nunatsiaq News.

“Substance abuse is an issue in the hubs,” wrote Ben Vera, who was a GN employee at the time, on Sept. 8.

“We are asking people who have drug and alcohol addictions to abstain for two weeks without any support and without a plan in place to deal with the fall-out.”

In October, a territorial government official spoke of the lack of protocol, instead offering a set of informal guidelines that included identifying a struggling or problematic individual whose behaviour would be discussed by higher-level isolation hub management. Then, the Health Department team would collaborate with hub staff to come up with a plan.

“This could be a break from isolation (severe) or Management Alcohol plan (moderate) or a check in with social work or mental health (low),” states Colby O’Donnell in the email.

According to communications staff with the Department of Health, a written protocol is now in place for situations like these.

Shoring up appropriate resources to deal with struggling guests has been a separate challenge.

An email from Sept. 15 describes how it’s been difficult for Department of Health staff to get mental health supports in place at the hubs.

“It’s taking a toll on the hub staff and … I am concerned how much longer they’d be able to handle all of this,” states the email, from an individual whose name has been redacted.

In December, Health Department staff were trying a different approach to mitigating violence at one of its Ottawa hubs – by making it dry.

One nursing consultant expressed concern about alcohol restrictions, arguing it could be dangerous for guests experiencing severe alcohol addiction.

In that email, Sarah MacRury stressed a managed alcohol program or detox would need to be in place for those individuals, and expressed frustration at her colleagues’ attitude towards the problem.

“Yes, that was me towards the end of the meeting complaining about the lack of acknowledgement of the addiction issue (oops, forgot to hit mute),” she states in her Dec. 2 email.

“I feel that the conversation that transpired was primarily about dealing with the GN’s ‘problem’ and less about supporting and managing the issues that the guests have – the perspective seemed a bit skewed.”

Two of the Health Department’s six isolation hubs are now designated medical hubs, which allows them to restrict alcohol – Best Western in Winnipeg and the Residence Inn in Ottawa.

The Health Department declined to make anybody available to interview for this story.

Evictions and banishment

Hub stays have taken a measurable toll on some Nunavummiut, who have struggled to complete their isolation.

As of April 29, 64 guests have been evicted from the hubs and some have been banned, according to the Department of Health.

The department would not provide a specific number for those who have been banned because that number is less than five.

When asked where evicted Nunavummiut go, spokesperson Chris Puglia stated in an email the government arranges a stay at alternative locations until they can re-enter the hub.

“For example, if there is a case of domestic assault, the perpetrator is then removed from the isolation until the other guest has returned home safely,” he stated.

A ‘horrendous’ situation

The rollout of the hubs without providing adequate support creates a “horrendous” situation for those in isolation, according to Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto.

“No government, whether it’s Nunavut or the feds or anybody, should be able to mandate [isolation] without ensuring the safety of the people involved,” he said.

“Quarantine, as we used to call it, is already ethically dubious because people are losing their rights without committing any sort of criminal offence. It becomes far less ethical if you isolate vulnerable people without any support … people could get hurt.”

People have been hurt while in isolation, confirms Danarae Sommerville, a spokesperson for the Department of Health.

She couldn’t say how many, though, because the territorial government doesn’t track that data.

She did, however, describe how the department responds when injury happens. A nurse will call 911 and notify the hub manager, and then tend to the injured person while wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment until the arrival of EMT.

An incident report for every injury is filled out and sent to the territorial government within 24 hours.

“The level of intervention needed will be determined on a case-by-case basis,” states Sommerville in the email.

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(45) Comments:

  1. Posted by Anonymous on

    It would be interesting to write and learn about the similar problems that happen in our homes and communities every day. Bad things happen every day. Now we start to care because it is happening in the isolation hotels?
    There is a daily phone call and mental health resources available there. What do we have here at home? A hell of a lot less than that!

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    • Posted by 3 Hots and a Cot on

      The whole time I was reading the article, all I could think is, “but what would these people be like if they were home instead of in isolation?”. Would they be any different? Are these stays actually making them worse, or just highlighting what their day-to-day is like?
      .
      Addicts often have to go without for short periods of time when they run out, have no money, and have to beg, borrow, or steal until the next chance. But I will admit that the GN trying to stick addicts into 2 weeks of isolation with the expectation of abstaining is… well, it’s gonna have some problems.
      .
      I imagine for some of these travellers, the stays in isolation provide a better housing and food situation than they have at home.

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      • Posted by Candace on

        @ 3 Hots and a Cot. No one in isolation was forced to abstain. I stayed in the COVID hub and alcohol was permitted. I’m not sure where people are getting this idea that people were forced to abstain.

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        • Posted by anon on

          Two of the six hub hotels are alcohol-free (Ottawa and Winnipeg).

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  2. Posted by wondering on

    and I bet the GN never thought of any of this garbage would happen , thought it would be simple. And should have been. However..the solution in having these hubs to “protect” Nunavummiut has now proven itself to be worse than the virus itself. Just end it we have covid now anyways…just wasting money at this point!!

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  3. Posted by GN gets tricked again on

    See the GN gets tricked again.

    They try to accommodate people who are violent and intoxicated and end up creating “horrendous” situations and not being able to “protect vulnerable people”.

    What they should have done is instead use the health orders to mandate a 14 day isolation over at Randi Beers’ or another Nunatsiaq reporter’s house because they can host violent intoxicated people and manage them perfectly.

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  4. Posted by Disappointment on

    There is such a huge underlying problem with alcohol and drug abuse in Nunavut, way too many are abusing alcohol and drugs.
    Mental health care is lacking so much and even knowing there is a huge problem the
    GN does not have any plans in place to deal with them.
    My questions is why does the GN continue to do so little? Why can’t the GN do more? What does the GN need to do to start dealing with these issues?
    From the creation of Nunavut 1999 to today, I feel like our government is getting worse and more unorganized and distant all the while with a much larger budget to work with.
    At least at a minimum please address the issues at the hubs and have some plans in place to make improvements.

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    • Posted by Jeannie on

      Only drugs and alcohol problem at hubs? Nope, i see some people are suffering trying to get food, water, tylonol for sick kids and they are told they cant help? If we have to go through this, why cant we get proper help? I’ve been here for a month now in the city.. I delivered my baby almost 3 weeks ago, i got no choice but to isolate with my baby and my escort before i get home to my husband and my kids.. It makes it so hard sometimes missing my kids back home, especially when we struggle looking for babysitter while my husband is trying to work while im down here isolating in wpg. I hope something will be done, we need help with food and medical stuff we need..

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  5. Posted by Ethos, Pathos, Logos on

    I love that Nunatsiaq has elicited the opinion of a bio-ethicist from the U of T. All to make the case that the government is negligent because it is unable to prevent people from being completely self destructive.

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    • Posted by Contradictory Statements on

      And not just any bioethicist, but the same bioethicist that said, “Precautions, isolations, lockdowns — these are moral positions. Social distancing is a moral position.”
      .
      So on one hand this bioethicist says that going into isolation is morally the correct thing to do, and now on this hand that same bioethicist is saying mandating isolation is “ethically dubious”. Make up your mind eh.

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  6. Posted by Behaviour on

    Terrible, terrible and terrible the way people from Nunavut are isolating. It’s not a trip to go and order alcohol and drugs, you’re on a medical. Disgusting to watch people high on alcohol or smoking drugs every half hour. There is a uncomfortable presence between Inuit and the hotel staff, it’s covert racism toward the hotel staff. Very bad and Inuit are known to be kind, gentle–in this case it’s opposite.

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    • Posted by larry on

      The 5 percent,make us all look bad,the hotel staff try,if they cannot have their booze and drugs,try the hand sanitizer,us 95 percent do our isolation and come back home.

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      • Posted by Moe on

        Yes the 5% makes us look bad but what is worse is the lack of planning by the GN to deal with these 5% that have issues.
        It’s the same in the communities, lack of mental health care and no plans in place.
        GN knows what the issues are, what are they planning to address them?

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    • Posted by Covert? No, Overt. on

      It is not ‘covert racism’, the disgusting racism that I saw from so many Inuit towards the hotel staff in Ottawa was blatant in your face.

      I couldn’t understand why so many seemed to have so much hatred towards Canadians of Indian/Pakistani/Caribbean ancestry.

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      • Posted by Uvanga on

        unfortunately this is a learnt behavior from the westerners treating them like that. The hurt hurting to hurt the same way they were. Ignorance is not trying to understand why people treat people like that. It’s not to say it’s ok, it’s to ask that people understand where we are coming from.

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        • Posted by Get real for once on

          Stop making these excuses for people who are ignorant. They act this way for that exact reason, ignorance… this is not surprising from a population that is poorly educated and very inward looking.

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        • Posted by Learned Alright on

          It sure is learnt behaviour…from parents and elders, not “westerners” whatever they are.

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        • Posted by Clown Car on

          Ah there it is, it’s the “westerners fault” as always, Inuit have no agency, no volition, no ability to choose how they act in the world, they are just robots mimicking all the horrible “westerners” (Because yea, this is how westerners act, right?) The ability to never take any responsibility has truly become a refined art here.

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  7. Posted by Inu on

    Most problems are the escorts, they drink even if they have a child with them. The health care workers in Nunavut communities should look into people if they have some records or something before letting them escort anyone going for out for medical travel. Most escorts are causing some problems, I’ve seen it and heard it.

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  8. Posted by Celiac on

    What this article does not mention is how the Gn has not made provisions by
    providing rooms for those with severe food allergies , severe food intolerances, people who are Celiac with full size fridge and stove ( in their rooms) to have control over your own food. The hub kitchens are careless about providing safe food for people like me. There is a lot of cross contamination of food going on in the kitchen at the best western hub in Winnipeg, the Kitchen staff does not care and are ignorant of what gluten is. I am celiac and I got really sick which lasted days afterwards last fall at the hub from eating food that had gluten in it despite the fact that I had to call at every meal time to ask what was in the food. This was extremely stressful for me. Skip the dishes is no better as you dont know what is going on in other restaurant kitchens either. When I emailed about my concerns to isolation relations, the GN site, they did not respond until 6-7 days later. Completely unacceptable
    I was down there for medical appointments and the GN has an obligation to accomodate people with medical issues as per our Canadian charter of rights . They have an obligation to keep the patients from harm . They are still failing miserably as they are still not providing rooms that are fully equipped for patients with food allergies, conditions and serious sensitivities.

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    • Posted by Nutty on

      I was pretty pleased with how the hub treated allergies. I came back through the medical hub in Ottawa with my daughter, who has a severe allergy to nuts. I identified her allergy to the hub staff during our intake interview the first afternoon. That evening, for dinner, someone in the kitchen had flagged our meals to be nut free. There was also a small sticky note on our door noting the allergy to those delivering the food. In the mornings, while my breakfast contained a muffin that may have trace amounts of nuts, the hub had substituted hers with a nut-free alternative. When the nurse called to check in with us, the on-site health staff had flagged the allergy. When the hub sent two of their employees mid way through our stay to check in on us, they too were aware of the allergy and asked if we were being served appropriately. Pretty impressive service throughout on this front, actually. I appreciate this high level of service may not have been consistently applied to other travelers.

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      • Posted by Same Hub on

        I stayed in the same hub with a family member who eats gluten free for health reasons (not celiac but still needs to avoid gluten). We told the intake nurse, and put it on their meal list, and had a sticky note saying “Gluten free” on the door, but most days the deserts were not gluten free, the breakfasts came not gluten free, and some of the meals with sides were not gluten free either.

        I’m glad that they were more stringent about nut allergies though. Luckily, unlike the first commenter, my family member didn’t get too sick, but it was also not helpful when healing from a medical emergency.

  9. Posted by Broken record on

    Sounds like a broken record, months even years after report and more reports no plans in place by the GN, some departments worse than others but a huge problem throughout the GN.
    Is it government bureaucracy that hold things up? Incompetence? Funding?
    Something is wrong for sure when things just continue the way they are going.

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  10. Posted by Hello on

    It would be nice to hear from our MLAs and Minister of Health and Premier to address these issues that have been outlined months ago.
    Our MLAs have you known about all these issues? Where is the leadership in the GN?

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  11. Posted by Mental Health Lacking on

    In 2020, another isolater told me [seeing them later in the same day of their original early morning scheduled departure] that the person woke up [not knowing where they were] in the hospital from a suicide attempt in their room. The person was waiting on anti anxiety meds to ‘kick in’ and went on their way back to their room. Afterward, when I knocked on the nurses door, I expressed concern that the person might need mental health support. The nurse initially told me that they are there only for covid related cases.

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  12. Posted by Curious Minds on

    “Malti Consulting manages the majority of the department’s six isolation hubs”.
    .
    I thought I read in this very newspaper that the contract to manage the GN’s isolation hubs was given to Qikiqtaaluk Corporation because the GN staff who started the hubs did not have time to continue managing them.
    .
    So how did that contract go from QC to a two-person consulting firm? Tim and Malaya Zehr may be great people, but are they the right people to be managing Nunavut’s isolation hubs as part of their consulting business?

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    • Posted by Curious Minds Consider on

      While you are right about Tim and Malaya being great people and a good half Inuit business but you also need to consider that there is a hell of a lot more to managing this project other than the hubs. Qikiqtaaluk Corporation took on more than they expected with this contract than you know. The GN really had no alternative at the time and are probably being paid much more than the GN had to however it is at this point what it is.
      The GN should have set up a committee to have communication with the various companies involved rather than just dumping on QC with no actual thought out plan. We see these actions everyday by the GN such as recently shut down businesses in Iqaluit with looking at the fact they are essential such as locally Inuit owed hunting store.
      I know many people that went through the hub especially in Ottawa and had no issues other than the food every now and then but none of them had addiction issues or mental health issues. The problem are being cause by these folks mainly and there should be support provided to these people. Without good communication and a willingness to work out these issues things will continue the way they are.

  13. Posted by Frontline on

    What this article lacks in nuance, context, and journalistic integrity, it makes up for in GOTCHA!

    The hubs didn’t create these issues, but they have been tasked with navigating them in the midst of a pandemic under uniquely and incredibly challenging circumstances. Tell the story accurately, or don’t tell it at all.

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    • Posted by Lookie Lou on

      Clicks, multiple reads, reader engagement are where it’s at in online media. Hard to blame them, yet hard to ignore how sensationalizing can distort reality and, worse, become corrosive.

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  14. Posted by the isolation hub program needs to be reviewed on

    Maybe it’s time for the GN to review the Isolation Program to see what needs to be changed.
    If Medical Travel is causing the majority of incidents then what else needs to be done to prevent this?
    People make such a fuss about people going on non essential travels but people are quiet when they read the stats that a lot of the incidents are being caused by Medical Travelers who need support to get through 14 days of isolation.

    Isolation for 14 days is very mentally stressful for the average person. Now throw people who have trauma, mental health issues, addictions, family violence on top of that and you have even more problems.
    The GN needs to invest in health care services in the North and stop relying on the South for health care.
    The GN needs to also start hiring competent staff to put in positions of power because the people making these critical decisions are unqualified and clueless on how to do their job and ensure the safety of people.

    I personally did not enjoy my time in isolation. I really wish I had the option to isolate at home or at the very least, be given the option to make my own meal while I was in isolation. The food provided was not good nor healthy and ordering food every day got super expensive for 2 weeks. And for those who want to argue about travelling, some people NEED to travel.

    The hotel rooms were not clean to begin and you cannot get any cleaning services while there to avoid isolation breach. I also did not like the fact that I was being forced to isolate in the hotel and that GN workers had to use their vacation time for isolation. Also, the GN would not approve people to work remotely.
    Even now, employers still wont give remote work even though the pandemic is getting out of hand in Iqaluit.

    Maybe a mandatory 14 day isolation is not ideal for Nunavut due to the many issues! The GN needs to figure out another way to address COViD19. Address poverty, address overcrowding in homes, address lack of sick days for low income front line workers.

    I understand that Nunavut has a lot of barriers but this is really just a case of poor leadership and lack of skilled staff in positions of power who can make wise and sound decisions that better the people.

    In all fairness, Dr. Patterson did the best he could to help stop the pandemic but strictly relying on the isolation hubs as the barrier was not wise as people were allowed to be exempted from isolation to come to Nunavut to work. If you have people not isolating and going to work, what did the health officials expect? It was just a matter of time.

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    • Posted by losing hope on

      I traveled for medical reasons and isolated in the Edmonton hub on my way home. The food was awful and despite complaining several times, nothing changed. Everyone has different dietary requirements, so why not give us rooms with kitchenettes? Let us have control over what we feed ourselves.

      Since my medical issue wasn’t covered by the GN, I had to use up vacation time and was not allowed to work from isolation. Everyone is expected to work from home during an active outbreak, so what difference does it make if we’re working from home or from a hotel??

      Construction workers are paid during isolation, medical travelers are paid (through special isolation leave) but regular GN workers receive nothing and are penalized. I hope the union fights for us who were forced to isolate and treated less-than everyone else.

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    • Posted by End 14 Day Isolation on

      I completely agree with you. It’s abundantly clear its not public travels that are causing the majority of the problems in isolation and yet they are the ones that are penalized the most. It’s about time the GN consider a shorter isolation program with testing. Test people on the first day of their isolation, and again when those results come back. If they test negative twice, send them home. That could be as short at 5-7 days.

  15. Posted by Suicides on

    How many people in isolation hae atempted suicide?
    .
    How many people in isolation have killed themselves?

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    • Posted by Good Question on

      Who has the numbers?
      Has any reporter asked at the press conferences?

      • Posted by Imbalance on

        In Nunavut reporters don’t ask serious questions, and government doesn’t have serious answers. This seems to be our equilibrium.

  16. Posted by articrick on

    Time for these people to act their age, common, do you want the govt to tell you how to act? Geez problems or not, it’s up to the individual to control themselves. It’s like Nunavut is one big daycare, once someone goes down south they act like little children, get into trouble then blame govt for their bad behavior.

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    • Posted by Excuse on

      All I hear in your comment is a bunch of excuses for the GN, how about the GN address the issues that are present and actually do some work with our tax money. The GN does get a lot of funding per year.
      When the GN knows about these issues for months and through whatever reason fail to do anything about it, is that ok in your judging eyes? Or is the blame on people with mental health issues?
      Most of the people in isolation manage but a few have serious issues and the GN has been failing to do its part.

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      • Posted by articrick on

        So everyone for from Nunavut has mental health issues is what you are saying?

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        • Posted by Excuse on

          No that’s not what I am saying, trying reading my comment a little slower and you will get it.

          • Posted by articrick on

            Maybe your assumptions are just not correct, the trouble makers are only the one with mental health issues? Alcohol and drugs is not a factor in people decisions on how they act in your judgemental eyes? How do you judge people as it’s only human nature to judge everything we do in life, like these comment section in NN.

  17. Posted by Shut these down already on

    There has been no case of those going to the two week jail time, so these places have not stopped the virus. If I want to enter Canada, all I need to do is spend 3 days in a hotel room. This is getting stupid and a colossal waste of my tax dollars. I have taken the steps to get vaccinated, so why on earth do I need to be in jail, when I will take better steps to make sure I do not bring anything to the north. We have a complete loss of leadership during this time.

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  18. Posted by Northguy on

    In Some countries if there is mass death or damage or people hurt their leaders visit that area,not here in Nunavut they would rather sit in there Ivory towers,and your on your own.

  19. Posted by Sheldon on

    As more people get vaccinated the isolation hubs are less about public safety and more about supporting the hotel industry. They should all be shut down.

    There is also question of the legality of confining people who have been vaccinated and present no risk to the public. Completely un-constitutional.

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    • Posted by true dat! on

      Yukon and NWT has come up with plans for vaccinated residents in regards to travel yet we get the “i have not looked if that will work for nunavut” answer from Paterson. Nunavut is infamous for govt handouts as its apparent during the press conference. “we will ask for money from the feds” seems to be the sentiment aired out. We are told over and over again they have prepared for more than a year for this, no, there was no preparation. NU is still stuck with rules when pandemic first hit in march 2020. Here we are 14 months later and we still cannot isolate at home while all this cases in Iqaluit, they now can isolate at home.

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  20. Posted by people should not have to isolate in a hotel for 14 days if fully vaccinated on

    I think the isolation program is a bit of an overkill in terms of forcing people to stay in very stressful and unideal conditions against their will. If people made the effort to get fully vaccinated, why keep them in isolation still for the full 14 days?

    It’s because the GN knows that Nunavut cannot handle a COVID 19 outbreak.
    When will the GN make effort to provide better health care and social support services to the North?
    It baffles me that the Inuit community have to fly South to get medical attention and proper health care services.
    I cannot imagine how much money the GN spends on health care services alone.
    People should have the right to access proper health care services in the North.
    Improve services in the North and stop relying on the South.

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