Updated: Nunavut declares public health emergency

Except for essential workers, everyone entering territory ordered to self-isolate for 14 days

Nunavut’s minister of health and finance, George Hickes, declares a public health emergency in an attempt to keep COVID-19 out of Nunavut. (Photo by Meagan Deuling)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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.

Share This Story

(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by iWonder on

    If we are expected to stay home for 14 days people are going to need to go to the store though. This too is a matter of survival. So, how are we going to deal with this?

  2. Posted by Top Story on

    Dear Nunatsiaq, please keep this story pinned to the top of your home page.

  3. Posted by Qavvigarjuk on

    Why is the government allowing Agnico Meliadine to still come and work (500-700 people) coming and.going every week outside Rankin Inlet using our local airport and still allowing some of their personnel to come in to town??? These people are coming from all areas in the country including where there is community spread and high numbers of people infected. I thought you said. NO.EXCEPTIONS. They must self isolate for 14 days. THEY ARE NOT ESSENTIAL. SERVICES!!! The Gold will still be waiting in the ground after this is all over.
    Their workers won’t be.economically impacted. Labour law says the company still must pay their workers in this situation. They made a.huge profit last year. The company must sacrifice like every other. business is asked to do for the sake of. preserving life and health of Canadians. Their screening. methods are. not foolproof, They are not actually testing for Covid 19, screening is not fool proof. Many people who are sick and shedding the Covid 19 virus especially the young do not always show the classic. symptoms of fever and coughing. If this mine was in Quebec do you think the population there would allow this to happen? I dont think so!!! GN, Inuit Organization leaders. stand up for your citizens apply and. enforce the same rules to. them. Shut them down until it is safe for everyone!!

    • Posted by blink on

      baffinland still flying in southerners , how do they self isolate

  4. Posted by Please change language on

    Please change your article to say that there are no KNOWN cases rather than there are NO cases.

    We simply do not know if there are cases here and we need to all act as if there are cases. You are giving a wrong impression and a false sense of security.

    Thank you!

    • Posted by Oscar on

      That is a very good point. In all likelihood the virus is in NU but not detected yet. Symptoms are similar to the flu. Plus, lots of NU people been to to/from Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary.

  5. Posted by johanne coutu-autut on

    I agree there are no KNOWN cases of covid 19 in Nunavut. They are not testing everyone like they are doing in the Us drive through. They are only testing the few people coming from outside the country who have classic serious symptoms and people who came into contact with known cases of covid getting sick and showing serious classical symptoms. This is because we have very few test kits for the whole territory. There are most likely people in Nunavut with the virus infecting other people as we speak. Many have travelled outside Nunavut in Winnipeg where covid 19 is present including my husband and I who are now in 14 day quarantine at home. My husband who is an elder and has been experiencing cold symptoms has been refused testing because he is not very ill, not showing classic symptoms of fever and cough. Yet we are told on the news by experts that covid symptoms vary in each individual.

  6. Posted by Jim Bo on

    So what if you go from territory to territory,
    Say you live in Kugluktuk and went to Yellowknife from medical?
    and now look at the gold mines letting northern’s home, I know some guys that work outside Baker that are from Yellowknife, and what if you had to travel home route through Yellowknife? Baker to Gjoa Haven??

  7. Posted by Goergy on

    I agree with Qavvigarjuk, we are not being tested properly, they are just taking our temperature before boarding and that’s it, people are coming from all areas in the country including where there is community spread and high numbers of people infected and it only takes one person to start an outbreak. What are the mines gonna do after that? How many lives are at stake? Who will be responsible if there’s an outbreak? What about the family impacts?

  8. Posted by Amos Tamamik on

    Here we go round the merry go round. Who is going to enforce this. How are you going to convince nunavumiut that their “Inukness” won’t protect them. Have you solved pride? Mental illness? Prejudices? Humans invade my personal space every time I am in public. I have had people walk right up to me, cough deliberately in my face, and exclaim, “I can do whatever I want, I’m Inuk.”

Comments are closed.