Nunavut health minister urges residents to refrain from holiday travel to the south

“These are different times, we have to continue to make these sacrifices”

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes says his department is anticipating a surge in guests at the government’s isolation hubs following the winter holidays. Just how big that surge will be depends on how many residents choose to travel south for non-essential reasons. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Dustin Patar

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes is reminding residents to avoid non-essential travel to southern Canada to help prevent COVID-19 from entering the territory.

Following lengthy discussions regarding the special warrants that helped pay for pandemic-related items like airline travel and isolation hubs, which will last until Dec. 31, John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, asked in the legislative assembly on Friday, Sept. 25, what the expected demand for the hubs would be in the future, particularly in January, as holiday travellers seek to return to the territory.

“We do anticipate that there will be another surge at Christmas time,” said Hickes.

How big that surge will be and what it will look like is just a guess, says Hickes, saying that it will be up to the general population.

“I know we’re missing our families, we’re missing loved ones all across the country, if not the world,” said Hickes.

“But I’m really hoping that people will practise their own due diligence and restrict any non-essential travel.”

Main responded by suggesting that the Government of Nunavut could look at creating an incentive program for people to travel within the territory as opposed to leaving.

The issue of future pandemic-related expenses was also raised by Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North–Chesterfield Inlet, in the legislature on Thursday, Sept. 24.

“Looking at the south, there is a second wave occurring and we don’t have an idea when COVID-19 will end,” she said.

“Should we expect another 10 special warrants for the next year?”

Hickes said that he hopes not.

“We do have the fall sitting coming up and then the winter sitting where hopefully we would be able to address any future expenses related to COVID-19 in the house here and debate it appropriately,” he said.

“But if necessary and forced to, then we would.”

As the members have debated all three supplementary appropriation bills throughout the week, some MLAs have raised concerns about the large sums of money spent by the territorial government on supporting airlines and operating isolation hubs. But they’ve also said they understood what is at stake.

“When we look at our fellow Nunavummiut, we have to see them as our priority,” said Main, through interpretation.

“Even though it’s going to be a difficult challenge for our budgets, it’s OK because a human is worth more than money.”

It’s a sentiment Hickes agreed with, and one that he said he hopes prospective winter travellers will consider when making their holiday arrangements.

“These are different times, we have to continue to make these sacrifices,” he said.

“Not only for our own individual well-being, but for our entire community and territory.”

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Reality on

    Eventually, Nunavut might just have to accept that they too will have to struggle with having some Covid cases. There are other remote communities in other territories and northern provinces where they have had a few cases and kept it under control. The quarantine might be more harmful at this stage than dealing with some cases and forcing people to isolate only as needed, rather than doing too much preventative quarantine.

    • Posted by Actual Reality on

      Traveling into the Yukon and the NWT still requires 14 day isolation, as it does in assorted provinces if you want to go there, so don’t think it’s magically different in the south. Have family in Nova Scotia? You’re in isolation for 14 days when you get there, and they will check on you to make sure you are.

      • Posted by Reality on

        It’s not “magical”, but they do let you self-isolate at home in most places. NWT you have to go to a centre only if you are going to a remote community. Remember, it may change in other places, too.

  2. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Gee George, We arrived in Singapore for a 15-day cruise on Feb 11, Checked into the hotel for the one night and 4 hours later got an email cancelling our cruise. Princess Cruises has sent us a cash refund and a $5K future cruise credit.

    It is only good till May 2022. Will I get to use it?

    You guys are doing a great job during this crisis, keep up the good work

    • Posted by Artie on

      NU needs to make some modifications & improvements to process. Their initial steps were good at the time but clearly not fool-proof as recent YT covid case indicates. Enjoy your future cruise Paul… floating petri dish?

  3. Posted by Peter Scholz on

    GN has spent millions on the quarantine program. There has not been a single Covid case captured by this program. Meanwhile, hundreds of people in Arviat have been exposed to tuberculosis.

  4. Posted by Consistency on

    I like the idea of making it easier to do inter community travel. perhaps with all the money that the GN has already given the airlines along with not having to pay for quarantine in the south they could have some discounted inter-community flights. perhaps even have Canadian North put some different routes in for a short time around Christmas so not everyone has to fly and stay in Iqaluit for a night or two to get to another community.

  5. Posted by Yeti on

    To the people that say “I have to go down south this christmas to visit so and so” or “I just need to get out of Iqaluit, I don’t care about the restrictions and quarantine”, it says more about you and your state of mind than it does about the emergency messures.
    I felt some anxiety at first when I realized we wouldn’t be able to travel for a long time. Then once I accepted that, you start seeing all the good things that come with staycationing. I always used my upcoming vacation at a crutch and told myself “Don’t worry, the big trip is right around the corner” and more often than not that vacation ends up being more trouble than not.

    • Posted by What does it say about me? on

      What does wanting to leave for vacation say about me? Selfish? That I have some sort of mental ailment I need to get over? How about get over yourself and critically think about what the GNis doing here vs. what “real” governments (the GN is the equivalent of a municipality in many places of Canada) are doing elsewhere and ask, “why?”.
      The quarantine measures in Nunavut are excessive. Do I need to quarantine 14 days if I travel to NS? Yes. NWT? Yes. But here is the fundamental difference: you can self-isolate there. And if you read closely, it actually means staying away from others, not staying locked inside. Anyone can enter NWT right now with a quarantine plan and walk the streets, so long as they avoid others.

  6. Posted by Disgruntled on

    I’ve loved my time living and working in Nunavut, but dealing with this nonsensical quarantine (which has captured exactly zero cases of COVID-19 in all of the hubs combined), the restrictions that have killed two of the three restaurants in my community, and the GN’s refusal to offer special leave or allow employees to work from quarantine has just been too much. I’ve accepted a job in the south and will be relocating in early October. It’s a shame. I planned on spending many years in Nunavut.

    I know I’m not the only one. The GN is losing employees already, and many who go home for Christmas will never return.

    • Posted by Consistency on

      When i talk to friends in the south everyone there is so scared and they are constantly worried about who they can and can not see, people are angry with each other because they do not make the cut to be in someones bubble. and concerns about if kids should be in school or not.

      Here at this moment we have not been impacted negatively at all (other then not being able to vacation in the south without quarantine). I have often forgotten about COVID-19. We are the only place that has remained COVID free to-date. But if you are leaving because you cant holiday in the south once a year without a 14 day quarantine then good luck to you and all the happiness you can find.

  7. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Here are a couple of things that people need to take into consideration;
    1. This is a pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen for over 100 years, so what we know, or think we know is woefully out of date. We just have no good recent examples to use to predict what is going to happen in the next 12 – 18 months.
    2. Look at the infections and deaths from the last major pandemic, the Spanish flu. There the majority of infections and deaths came in the second wave, which occurred in the winter, and cases escalated rapidly and overwhelmed the health care systems. We don’t know that this is going to happen, but we also don’t know that it’s not going to happen. We need to be prepared.
    3. We know that our science is better than it was 100 years ago, but one thing that hasn’t changed is human nature, and the virus spreads due to our human nature, both gathering in groups and deciding in our narrow self interest instead of for the greater good.
    4. The virus kills. Yes it’s mostly older people, frankly it’s devastating to anyone over 80, often fatal to anyone over 70, and of great concern to anyone over 60. True it has less affect on children, teens, and young adults, but there are still cases of death in each and every group.
    5. We don’t know what we don’t know. There is some information that even in young people there are lasting cardiovascular and pulmonary affects. Will these affect 20 year old individuals when they are 40? We just don’t know the long term affects of this virus.
    In summary we are facing a virus where we understand very little. We don’t even know for sure if there is immunity once you have contracted the virus, and how long it will last. We don’t know for sure that there will be an effective vaccine, although there are more than 100 separate efforts to find one.
    In short we are still at the start of the battle, against an enemy that we know little about. We need to be cautious. Ideally we should have done what China did, what New Zealand did. Lock the border tight. Lock down areas with corona virus. Drive it down to zero. Get massive testing available. Once the virus is down to zero, reopen society in gradual steps and be ready to lock down again at a moment’s notice. Ensure that borders are tight and that new arrivals do not contaminate the rest of the country.
    The federal and provincial governments for the most part decided not to do this. Their solution was to reduce the virus in society where it could be handled, not to try to eliminate it. They took half measures, as governments often do fearing backlash.
    In my estimation that was a mistake. If you eliminate the virus you are then in a position to use most of your resources to test new arrivals and ensure that they are virus free, this is basically what Nunavut and the Maritime provinces has done, unfortunately this is not helped by the federal government and most provincial government policies.
    The Maritime provinces have actually been successful doing this because they reduced cases to zero, had strict rules for masks, gatherings, mandatory 14 day isolation, and actually followed up to ensure that rules and quarantines are being observed.
    The federal government unfortunately still allows inbound international travel, and every single day there are new Covid-19 cases arriving in the country. Sure there is a 14 day quarantine, but it is voluntary, and frankly not very effective in most provinces.
    B.C., Alberta, Ontario, and worst of all Quebec shows what happens when you don’t drive cases to zero, and still reopen society. There provinces are seeing a spike in cases and exponential growth. If it continues our already weakened health care system may crumble in these provinces.
    The GN should maintain it’s mandatory 14 day isolation policy until a vaccine is available or until effective treatments are available. As well the GN needs cases in southern Canada to be minimal or zero. Having over 1,000 cases a day, with the hot spots being at transportation hubs in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta just makes it all the more necessary to keep Nunavut isolated.
    Yes it is inconvenient for everyone. So is dying. Whether it’s your grandparent, your parent, your children, your sibling, your relatives, or even just people you don’t know in your community, other communities, or even other cities in Canada.
    We are all in this together people. Stop bitching and start listening. Do your part. Wear a mask. Social distance. Wash your hands. Be kind to others. Stay safe.

  8. Posted by Johnny on

    Regardless of the reality of this horrible pandemic, if southerners working in Nunavut have to be away from their families at Christmas this year, can you blame them if they decide not come back next year if the same restrictions are still in place?

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