Nunavut bans entry of most non-residents, requires returning residents to self-isolate before flight

“We are at a breaking point,” says health minister

Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, speaks to reporters at a news conference on Monday, March 23, where it was announced that non-residents and non-critical workers are banned from entering the territory. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Emma Tranter

Starting one minute before midnight on Tuesday, March 24, only Nunavut residents and critical workers will be allowed to enter the territory.

Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, announced the travel ban on Monday, March 23.

There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. As of Monday, 111 people have been tested and 43 people have been cleared after self-isolating, said Premier Joe Savikataaq.

The new restrictions mean that before boarding a plane to Nunavut, travellers will undergo a 14-day isolation period in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Yellowknife. This includes medical travel patients.

After 14 days, asymptomatic residents will be cleared and allowed to return to their home community.

Critical workers are exempt from the 14-day isolation period in the south but will need to provide written permission from the chief public health officer to enter the territory and must be asymptomatic to be cleared, Patterson said at a news conference.

Patterson said his department is reviewing the travel history of all critical workers arriving or returning to the territory from other jurisdictions in Canada for the three weeks prior to entering Nunavut.

“We are assessing whether or not they’ve been exposed to COVID-19. Individuals who have been through significant exposure will not be allowed to work,” Patterson said.

Critical workers will also be required to check in with their supervisor on a daily basis to assess how they’re feeling, for at least two weeks.

“Nurses and physicians will be required to wear a mask during all of their shifts for the first two weeks after returning to Nunavut,” Patterson said.

Before returning, Nunavut residents will be put up in hotels where they will receive three meals a day and be checked on two to three times a day, Patterson said. All accommodations, food and necessities for all travelers will be provided for free during the isolation period. Security guards will also be placed at isolation sites to ensure people are practising isolation.

“Those check-ins might not be physical. It might be phone calls. We’ll organize ways for them to safely get out of the room for brief periods of time,” said Patterson.

At the end of 14 days, if the person is asymptomatic, they will be given a letter stating they completed quarantine and will be allowed to board a plane to Nunavut.

“When they get into Nunavut, then they are free to go on about their business,” Patterson said.

Instead of the 14-day quarantine in a hotel, people also have the option to stay where they are, Patterson said.

“The other option for people if they feel safer or more comfortable is to, if they have it as an option, they can wait it out in the south and come back to Nunavut when appropriate,” Patterson said.

“This is the only way to ensure that everybody gets 14 days of isolation before they go into some of our more remote communities where the impact of COVID-19 will be the highest.”

Patterson said the GN will be sending a directive to the airlines to notify them of the new 14-day quarantine rule. The GN will also be posting more information about the new rules on its website, he said.

“The hope is that the airlines will communicate with people that they need this letter from my office saying that we know you’ve completed your isolation in the south and that you’re approved … to come into Nunavut without restrictions.”

All public gatherings are also banned, the GN announced on Monday. All playgrounds and municipal parks are closed.

Patterson encouraged people to spend time with family at home or go out on the land as a household, but not to gather in groups with other people.

“Organized activities like hockey games and skating rinks and playing as multiple family units in the park or having play dates, those are risky,” he said.

Patterson said because of the public health emergency declared by the territory last week due to COVID-19, the GN has the authority to issue directives to the airlines on who is allowed to board planes to Nunavut.

The GN announced in a news conference last week that it would provide financial support to licensed child care facilities to make up for lost revenue during the pandemic. Premier Joe Savikataaq said on Monday the funds will be processed and sent to eligible child care facilities by March 27.

“We are at a breaking point,” health minister says

George Hickes, Nunavut’s health minister, closed off Monday’s press conference with a stern message to Nunavummiut.

“Whether you are sick or not, stay home. Unless you’re an essential worker, you should be working from home and avoid contact with others. Stay home,” Hickes said.

Hickes said it’s best not to bring children to grocery stores, and when possible to not visit stores in groups.

“The fact that we do not have a case in Nunavut does not mean we are safe. We are at a breaking point right now. If we follow the isolation rules, we may be able to contain any potential contact or spread in Nunavut,” Hickes said.

“Your kids should not play in groups. Keep two metres or six feet away from others at all times, even during play time,” he said.

Hickes once again urged people to comply with social distancing and self-isolation rules, especially given Nunavut’s limited number of health-care workers and public safety officers.

“Do not make us have to take these people away from the COVID response to chase after people that are breaking the isolation rules,” Hickes said.

“We have measures we can enact to patrol the streets if necessary. Penalties for individuals breaking public health orders can be as high as $50,000 or up to a year in jail.”

“Think of it in this way: if your house was on fire, would you want the firefighters to be fighting the fire, or controlling the crowd?”

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by Joe Worker on

    Why are flights into the mines still allowed. Why is Nunavut allowing Baffinland to put worker’s lives at risk in small mining camps where they’ll be screwed if there’s an outbreak run rampant! Remember, Dr. Patterson, entry into Nunavut means everyone, including the mining companies! Please don’t let the virus in the backdoor and protect the mine workers as well!!!

    • Posted by Observer on

      The mines have an easier time enforcing quarantine rules than a community does. You can have mine workers wear protective gear to limit transmission risks, you can make sure they don’t have group activities. They all have individual rooms so you can keep them secure until they can be medevaced out, if needed.

      In comparison, from what I’ve seen in the stores recently, no one is stopping the parents from bringing their kids there and allowing them to tear around the place touching everything and playing with other kids.

      • Posted by Joe Worker on

        Obviously, you DON’t work in a mining operations buddy. Staff on airplanes, close together is unavoidable. And if a virus spreads via asymptomatic carrier… then it’s game over in camp. We can take all the PPE and sanitation precautions we can, but we all eat our meals in the same mess hall, shared accommodations that are confined and cramped, and the one medic on duty would be completely overwhelmed in a matter of days. Then what? Medivac the entire camp out? No medical facilities equipped with respirators or other medical PPE, no meds. Yeah, plan for disaster!

  2. Posted by Traveler on

    Anybody can say , i was in 14 day isolation , now let me on the plane , don t forget 33 million canadians, so who is watching who

  3. Posted by Airports are risky on

    So just to be clear, people go from isolation to the airport, where they check in and go through airport security and can interact with the airport workers and the whole world that’s passing by. And can touch potentially infected surfaces. Then they get on an airplane and sit close to non-isolated critical workers and flight attendants who might be infected but not yet symptomatic. After that several hour long episode of potential contagion, they are free to roam in our small communities, while those same critical workers they sat next to get checked on every day.
    Or am I missing something?

    • Posted by Artie on

      My thoughts exactly Airports are risky. Self-isolating before getting on the long flight(s) (& many personal encounters) home sort of defeats the whole self-quarantine purpose. Unless they self-isolate before & after arrival @ 28 days. That is a heck of a long time.

    • Posted by Mother of Two on

      What an excellent observation! I hadn’t thought of that. I wonder how you could pose that question to the GN to see what they say? The media hasn’t asked it. It’s a very good question.

  4. Posted by baffoon on

    since when is working at a iron or mine a critical job, your allowing workers from all over canada interact with local residents in a camp situation ,who is liable, the government for letting it happen or baffinland for showing little regard for the locals as usual .

    • Posted by Observer on

      Apparently you weren’t paying attention over the last two weeks that the mines are keeping their local workers home, and not allowing local community members to use or access their facilities.

      • Posted by baffoon on

        who do you think cleans the camps it’s only sending locals over 60 home not many of them there anyway

        • Posted by Jimmy on

          Every local who lives in a community was sent home with pay.
          You don’t know anything !!!

          People over the age of 60 who have health risks from the south are sent home.

          There is no Inuit here that live on baffinland.

          They got cleaners from south as contractors here.

  5. Posted by Concerned from Small Community on

    Does this “stay at home” apply to small isolated communities?

    • Posted by Mother of Two on

      I was wondering the same! The GN could really use some clear messages. Now is not the time to be vague.

      • Posted by Very concerned on

        I agree. Why are not ALL GN offices closed down? There are many who could be home doing paperwork but are going to the office to socialize with each other. I am talking about office workers. Not medical staff.

  6. Posted by George on

    Until such time as we have a confirmed case of COVID-19 in our community the self-isolation requirement for citizens who have NOT travelled or come in contact with an infected person may seem a bit overkill. BUT, we don’t know for sure if the virus is already here. And if it is here, WHO HAS IT? With a positive case we will suddenly be in a crisis situation. Privacy concerns have to be put aside and people have to be identified so that we can keep our distance from them and all the people they have had contact with.

    My wife and I are in self-isolation simply because we are both in that high-risk group (elders). We have chosen not to go to work because our jobs require that we work alongside a number of “essential” workers, one of whom recently arrived in Nunavut and is NOT subject to the self-isolation requirement.

    We can’t get EI because we are not (yet) sick. So it will be a tough go, and I expect it will be at least a year before things START to get back to normal.

  7. Posted by Jim Buck 2 on

    To self isolate you have to have the virus. If you just self isolate for 2 weeks, it does not mean you are over the virus.
    Those who have already have recovered from the virus are the ones who probably not get sick again. Not the same strain anyway. Like the flu, virus strains change. This will never go away. It will just keep changing. Are we in self isolation for ever?

    • Posted by George on

      People returning from outside of Nunavut are required to self-isolate. They don’t “have to have the virus” before that requirement kicks-in.
      We are isolating ourselves (some call it “stay home”) to protect ourselves from others, not vice-versa.
      Are we in self-isolation forever? Maybe not “forever”, but it’s the new normal, probably for a year or two.

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