Keeping COVID-19 out of Nunavut is as easy as washing your hands, says health minister

George Hickes says personal hygiene, self-reporting are best ways to prevent spread of novel coronavirus

Nunavut’s minister of health, George Hickes, says the best way to avoid COVID-19 is to wash your hands often and avoid touching your face. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The risk of the newest coronavirus, COVID-19, remains low in Canada, especially in Nunavut, and maintaining personal hygiene is the best way to keep it that way.

That’s the message being passed down from Nunavut’s minister of health, George Hickes.

“Make sure you wash your hands frequently. Don’t touch your face. Make sure that you continue to wash and cough into your sleeve to make sure that you’re not passing anything on around you,” said Hickes in the legislative assembly on Monday, March 2.

The message hasn’t changed, but every day this week in question period MLAs have asked Hickes for an update.

Nunavut’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Michael Patterson, is in constant communication with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Hickes said.

On the agency’s website, it says it is working with the provinces and territories, as well as the World Health Organization, to “constantly monitor the situation.”

As of March 5, the agency reported 34 cases of COVID-19 in Canada—20 in Ontario, 13 in B.C. and one in Quebec. And 77 countries have reported cases of the virus.

The website for Canada’s public health agency gives advice for travellers, and for what to do if you think you have come into contact with the virus.

“It is important for all travellers to monitor their health when they return to Canada,” the website says.

Pay attention to whether or not you have a fever, cough or a hard time breathing for 14 days after you may have been exposed to the virus. That’s because 14 days is the incubation period for the virus, or the length of time a person could be exposed to it before symptoms appear.

Hickes reiterated this.

“Anytime anyone feels they may have come into contact, first of all, we want to make sure they self-isolate and contact the health centre to look into testing,” Hickes said.

There are isolation units at the Qikiqtani Regional Hospital in Iqaluit, and in Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay, Hickes said.

Nunavut’s minister of health, George Hickes, says the territory has a plan in place in case the COVID-19 virus ends up in Nunavut. (File photo)

In response to a question from John Main, MLA for Arviat North–Whale Cove, about whether people in other communities will be flown elsewhere for isolation, Hickes said it would depend on the severity of the illness.

“I do want to assure members that if by some chance that this does get—not out of control but more of a challenge—we do have a plan in place to protect our population,” said Hickes.

Although the message is that the risk of the virus is low in Canada and Nunavut, Main pointed out that the territory would be in trouble if the virus did make its way here. “It’s an unfortunate fact that our health centres across Nunavut are under-resourced and struggling to meet needs in many cases,” he said.

This sentiment was echoed in a news release sent out by the Inuit Circumpolar Council on Wednesday, March 4.

“Our rural, remote communities are potentially at much higher risk and exposure to such epidemics due to the chronic lack of basic infrastructure, including lack of sewer and running water in many of our communities,” it said in the release.

The ICC said that Inuit are the original inhabitants of some of the wealthiest countries on earth, yet because of poor infrastructure they suffer from overcrowding, food insecurity, low life expectancy and diseases like tuberculosis.

The ICC called on governments for “major new investments in our communities” in housing, water and sewer infrastructure.

The ICC also wants governments to acknowledge these infrastructure challenges when creating response plans to COVID-19.

“Because of these conditions, combined with looming threats such as the coronavirus, Inuit leaders across the Arctic are concerned about the compounded threats to our basic health and well-being and cultural integrity,” said the ICC.

Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website for updated information on COVID-19, as well as information about risks associated with travel, and frequently asked questions.

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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by tuktuborel on

    If Corona Virus arrives in Nunavut it will be by airplane and it will spread rapidly in the community. Just like any other flue or cold when it arrives in our communities. And due to our understaffed and overworked health centers it could prove to be a real issue.
    With all the back and forth travel that happens, medical travel certainly comes to mind, it can be difficult to prevent the spread of any virus.
    As the Health Minister said all of us need to do our best to wash our hands very good and stay at home when sick. This includes parents with sick kids who for whatever reason can’t stay home until they are all well.

    • Posted by Inuk Person on

      Exactly, understaffed and over worked health centres are a real issue. Nunavummiut will have problems accessing the hospitals in Yellowknife, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Ottawa when these cities are hit by the virus. The Territory may also be cut off from the supply chain because of shortage in the south.

  2. Posted by More Info Please on

    I’d like to know what capacity our health departments have to test for Covid 19? That’s the kind of information I think the public would like to know.

  3. Posted by Jeff on

    Not going to be a good if coronavirus lands in NU. But the cold outside limits big gatherings at least. AWG should likely be postponed.

  4. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    We need each of the three airports receiving flights from the south to have heat testing equipment meeting every plane coming in. Its being done all over Europe and Asia now. They don’t even come near the traveller. Just like a radar gun.

    Also why is Kugluktuk health centre down to emergencies only? Something we should know??

    • Posted by Keith on

      Thermal imaging only works if they’re already running a fever. The problem comes from the asymptomatic carriers.

  5. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    How about testing at the mine sites? The majority of mine workers come from outside of Nunavut. If it was brought home by local people it might become very difficult to contain.

    • Posted by I’m Thinking Locally But Watching Globally on

      I’m betting that local people rather than mine workers will primarily be the source, someone on medical travel. The old and ill, rather than the relatively young and healthy in the mines. Hospitals are such a great place to catch things. I wouldn’t focus only on southern access airports, east-west travel is fairly easy now.

  6. Posted by Keith on

    The biggest problem if it gets into the communities, just like every time something gets into the communities, is that isolation is basically impossible. Even discounting overcrowding, people insist on visiting others, which is good in normal times, bad during an epidemic.

  7. Posted by Woodland Elf on

    “The risk of the newest coronavirus, COVID-19, remains low in Canada, especially in Nunavut, and maintaining personal hygiene is the best way to keep it that way.”
    Absolute nonsense!
    The coronavirus IS coming to the North, it may even be here now. I would be more surprised if it hasn’t than if it has. Either way this is reality and we will see it soon enough, pretending the risk is low and that washing hands will make avoiding it is “easy” is misleading, and even reckless.

  8. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    I’m thinking that the GN might just want to plan for the worst scenario where the Covid-19 virus is concerned.
    Let’s face it, no matter if you are a medical professional or not, no one is going to be able to forecast how this is going to play out.
    Emergency planning is all about figuring out the worst that can happen and see what can be done to mitigate the negative effects.. The GN and each municipality should have this scenario in their Emergency Planning Manual, if not I would suggest they get one the phone right now to someone who can give them the information they need.
    Might as well call this now, even if the World Health Organization doesn’t, this is a pandemic. It’s not going to be pretty, and it’s likely that a lot of people will contract it.

  9. Posted by B Aglukark on

    Will be difficult to manage-monitor mine staff for baffinland and agnico shift change from southern locations. Then you have all the Inuit medical travellers in Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg Edmonton. It’s a matter of when it spreads through Nunavut. You should consider washing your hands-even when there isn’t a potential global pandemic . Why wait?

  10. Posted by Fear Bug on

    We don’t really know if this vrus is worse than the flu bug. Like there are other factors, we don’t know yet. These include other health issues and ages of those who have died.
    This is making fear a big thing. We also know people who have been exposed to an illness do sometimes develop immunities. For sure, not all those got Covid 19 have died.

    • Posted by Keith on

      Covid-19 is, so far, running a 3.4% mortality rate as of March 3. It’s probably lower, since that’s based on the number of known cases and there are probably a lot more, especially in the US. Seasonal flu has a mortality rate around 0.1%. So yes, we know it’s worse than the normal flu. For comparison, the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu pandemic had an estimated mortality rate somewhere between 1 and 6%.
      So this thing, not a joke.

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