Life in Nunavik is almost back to normal—minus the trips to Montreal

“But today, I can say I’m very proud that we’ve kept COVID-19 away”

Passengers wait for flights at the Puvirnituq airports. Airports around Nunavik are a little fuller these days, following the return of commercial air travel within the region. North-south travel remains restricted due to COVID-19. (File photo)

By Sarah Rogers

Things are slowly moving back to normal in Nunavik.

In Kuujjuaq, you can go for a sit-down meal at the local hotel or book a flight to visit family in Kuujjuaraapik. Childcare centres are back in operation, and the construction sector is expected to be up and running by early July.

Next to reopen are swimming pools, youth houses, gyms and bingo games, starting July 1, regional authorities announced this week.

Nunavik has been free of COVID-19 since May 5, and since the beginning of June, the Nunavik–Regional Emergency Preparedness Advisory Committee (N-REPAC) has been gradually easing some of the measures it put into place.

That committee—made up of regional and municipal organizations—has been roughly following the reopening schedule recommended by the Quebec government, but adapting it to the reality of the region. While N-REPAC met three times a week through April and May, the committee now meets weekly.

The discussions and subsequent decisions made around the table require a careful balance between efforts to keep Nunavimmiut safe and keeping them happy, said Kativik Regional Government chair Jennifer Munick.

“In the North, we’re very family oriented—there are many multigenerational households and we visit each other often,” Munick said. “I was very relieved we didn’t see COVID-19 spread more than it did.”

Although commercial flights are now available between Nunavik communities, north-south travel remains limited to essential workers and individuals with medical appointments. That’s a tough shift heading into the summer months, when Nunavik families plan vacations and shopping trips in Montreal and beyond.

Similarly, churches—an important gathering place for Nunavimmiut—remain closed, while they wait for direction from Catholic and Anglican leadership.

“We’ve had to make our guidelines following our own culture and way of living,” Munick said. “A lot of the communities were getting impatient, but we had to just remind them that we’re in the middle of a deadly pandemic.”

Restrictions around alcohol sales proved to be controversial through April and May. While Quebec declared alcohol sales an essential service by keeping its SAQ stores open, Nunavik’s leadership opted to put limits on when and how much alcohol residents could purchase locally or order from the south.

In Puvirnituq, the community that saw 14 COVID-19 infections in late March and early April, local leadership opted to shut down alcohol sales altogether for a period.

Each of Nunavik’s 14 communities has had a certain amount of autonomy in deciding what works best for the community.

With construction season set to officially open on July 6, communities have had to decide if and how they’ll allow in a southern workforce. Contractors are required to book screening appointments for their construction workers before they are allowed to travel to Nunavik.

Twelve of the region’s 14 communities will allow construction companies to undertake certain essential projects. The other two, Puvirnituq and Kuujjuaq, will draft their own rules around construction work.

In Kuujjuaq, for example, the municipal council had decided to allow in crews of no more than five workers at a time.

The fate of the 2020-21 school year remains unknown. Schools in Nunavik have been closed since the end of March and the region’s school board, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, has yet to announce plans for reopening schools in August.

In the meantime, Munick encourages Nunavimmiut to get out on the land and enjoy the summer weather, remembering, of course, to wash your hands often and keep a distance from others.

“I think everyone’s going to always be on guard, for a little while anyway,” she said.

“But today, I can say I’m very proud that we’ve kept COVID-19 away.”

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