Updated: Nunavut declares public health emergency
Except for essential workers, everyone entering territory ordered to self-isolate for 14 days
Updated March 19, 9 a.m.
There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, and the territorial government says that a state of emergency is an attempt to keep it that way.
The emergency was declared by Health Minister George Hickes on Wednesday, March 18, at the territorial government’s daily COVID-19 update in Iqaluit.
The emergency measures include an order for anyone arriving in the territory to go straight home and stay there, isolated, for 14 days.
“Go straight home,” said Hickes. “Don’t go to the post office. Don’t go to work. Don’t go to the store.”
Nunavut’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Michael Patterson, said that the health system is now offering at-home testing.
Anyone who thinks they need to be tested should call their local health centre, hospital or health authority. They will be assessed over the phone. If capacity allows, a health-care professional will come to where the person is to do a swab test.
As of Wednesday, 50 to 60 Nunavut residents have been tested, Premier Joe Savikataaq said. Half of those results have returned, and all are negative so far.
The test swabs are flown to Winnipeg to be analyzed, and results are emailed or faxed back to Nunavut. The person who was tested then gets a phone call.
“It’s kinda nice to be able to phone someone and say, ‘You’re off isolation.’” Patterson said.
If someone lives with a person who is in isolation because they have symptoms or they returned from out of the territory, they can still go to work, Patterson said. But they should monitor themselves closely for any symptoms, and be strict about any non-essential public activities or gatherings.
The Government of Nunavut will continue to deliver services, but at a slower pace. And Patterson is asking people to abstain from seeking medical help unless it’s “absolutely necessary,” to reduce the strain on health-care professionals.
The mandatory self-isolation does not apply to people who fly in from the south to provide essential services, such as working for the RCMP, in health care, or for municipalities. These people can go straight to work but will undergo enhanced screening and daily check-ins, said Patterson.
But if those essential workers are entering Nunavut from a high-risk area in the south where there is community transmission of COVID-19, “we won’t be making those exceptions,” said Patterson.
If someone tests positive for COVID-19, everything but essential services will be shut down, Patterson said, and there will be enhanced screening and containment of anyone the infected person may have been in contact with.
On the same day, the federal government announced money to help support the provinces and territories with the extra costs due to COVID-19. In his capacity as minister of finance, Hickes said the GN put together a “rough, back-of-napkin number which we’re communicating to the feds,” which he said was in excess of $40 million.
That is the anticipated cost of dealing with COVID-19 if it appears, as well as the costs of preparatory measures such as hiring extra people and creating space for isolation.
Another consequence of the state of emergency announced today is that bars in the territory will close in 48 hours, and restaurants will be take-out only.
Hickes said that federal money announced today will include relief for businesses, including tax relief and payroll assistance.
He said anyone with financial concerns because of COVID-19 should to contact their MLA or his office.
“I can’t stress enough that when someone’s not feeling good, stay home,” he said, “even if they’re worried about a paycheque.”
As well, church services will be limited to funerals, preferably outside, and the Nunavut Arctic College will close, effective on Thursday, March 19, for three weeks.
The GN is providing daily updates on its response to COVID-19. For more information, follow the GN on social media.
Savikataaq’s press secretary, Cate Macleod, said she will be monitoring the premier’s social media feed for questions about COVID-19 and they will do their best to respond.
This story was updated to include the information that at-home testing for COVID-19 is available in Nunavut, if capacity allows.