Nunavut health minister says at least one senior employee travelled south over holidays

Lorne Kusugak says too soon to say how many travelled and whether it was essential

Lorne Kusugak, Nunavut’s health minister, confirmed that at least one member of Nunavut’s senior health staff travelled south for the holidays. He said it’s too soon to assume it was for a vacation and not a justifiable reason, like necessary medical travel. (Photo by Meagan Deuling)

By Mélanie Ritchot

Despite the Government of Nunavut urging residents to avoid travelling south during the holidays, at least one member of the territory’s senior health staff did just that, the health minister confirmed Thursday.

“There are some staff that are currently not in Nunavut,” Nunavut’s health minister, Lorne Kusugak, said during Thursday’s COVID-19 press briefing.

He said he did not know details about how many staff travelled south, when they travelled or whether they had good reason that would exempt them from the restrictions.

“I’m looking into it and we’ll deal with it at that time,” said Kusugak.

“For me to say that they left for non-medical and non-necessary travel, I can’t say that at this time.”

Nunavut’s territory-wide public health emergency has been in place since mid-March and was renewed Thursday, as stated in a GN news release.

In September, then-health minister George Hickes urged Nunavummiut not to leave the territory for the holidays. This advice came as the country braced for a second wave of the pandemic, which led to outbreaks in Nunavut.

At the press briefing, Kusugak reiterated Hickes’ advice.

“Everybody that is going south should leave only if it’s necessary,” he said.

Most people flying into Nunavut must self-isolate for two weeks in one of the territory’s hubs in the south. The GN pays the cost of these self-isolation stays.

Some essential workers, like RCMP, health-care or municipal employees, don’t have to self-isolate, according to the government’s public health orders.

Kusugak did not say whether the government staff members who travelled south were, or will be, required to isolate before flying back.

Iqaluit city councillor Kyle Sheppard criticized GN staff for travelling during the pandemic in a tweet, saying “the Government of Nunavut shouldn’t have to spend a dime of deficit funding to pay for someone in my position to isolate in an Ottawa hotel for two weeks so I can go on vacation.”

As of Nov. 19, the government had spent an estimated $36.6 million running the isolation hubs, Cate Macleod, the premier’s press secretary, confirmed in an email Dec. 1.

The only senior official under Premier Joe Savikataaq’s portfolios who travelled during the holidays did so for necessary medical reasons, Macleod told Nunatsiaq News in an email on Thursday.

“All cabinet ministers remained in territory over the holiday period,” she said.

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by What of it? on

    Governments around the world and the GN said don’t travel unless essential. Premier left in the summer. No comments? Why does it matter now?

  2. Posted by Umilik on

    If you’re hyperventilating over some people going on vacation, your life must be pretty damn easy. It doesn’t affect your life, so get over it.

    • Posted by concern on

      rest were told not to travel. rules apply to anyone unless an exception due to essential travel. as we understood it. perhaps it is different for some?

  3. Posted by family ties on

    After chaining their staff to their desk for the better part of a year it’s natural some people felt the need to visit their families. The government makes gestures regarding the mental health of their employees. Imagine the uproar if intra-community travel was banned for the same period. While traveling south is not idea it still doesn’t compare to traveling internationally.

  4. Posted by Raven on

    The guilty will be identifiable by the action packer in tow.

  5. Posted by Concerned Citizen on

    C’mon people, we have to let them go sometime. We’ve been in this crap for a better part of a year. Who cares if they went south to see family. After all, their tax dollars pay for the hubs too! Staff retention, helllo?

  6. Posted by Red on

    For every senior management official who disregarded the pleas to not leave the territory, there is a division of staff under them who had to stay in-territory in order to keep the government machine running, and who haven’t had a vacation since at least March 2020. Staff retention? Mental health? Only for those in privileged positions of power, apparently.

  7. Posted by Same same on

    It should not matter which one was Minister when the leave was signed.

    the names should be exposed. Remember the ‘crack down’ in the south which this type of privileged exceptions? this is SERIOUS

  8. Posted by Not surprised on

    It should not be a surprise that some people will leave if they have the means and opportunity. The Premier left in the summer when people were told not to travel……..which gives off the “Do as I say and not as I do” attitude.

  9. Posted by Bert Rose on

    On Sunday January 10th I flew south for medical reasons.
    Believe me of the 76 passengers on board the common discussion point was,” I just need a break”. These were not Senior anything passengers.

  10. Posted by Kivalirmiuttaq on

    I think the essential workers coming into Nunavut from the south should at least be tested with the rapid testing. Seeing how fast covid spread in Arviat, due to housing shortage. We also must do our part, social distance, hand wash and no large gatherings!

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