Iqaluit COVID-19 outbreak linked to more contagious U.K. variant

Karaoke night at bar ‘fits the description of a super-spreader event,’ says Dr. Patterson

Health Minister Lorne Kusugak used Monday’s COVID-19 news conference to address rumors that two passengers on a Canadian North flight traveling from Iqaluit to Rankin Inlet on Friday were allowed to travel despite waiting for COVID test results. “The individuals who tested positive on Friday night in Rankin Inlet were not even identified as contacts until after their flight had departed,” said Kusugak. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Nunatsiaq News

The COVID-19 outbreak in Iqaluit has now been linked to the U.K. variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, made the announcement during a news conference on Monday morning after test results from southern labs were received over the weekend.

The U.K. variant, otherwise known as B117, may spread more easily than the general strain of the virus, said Patterson.

“That increased rate of transmission makes it even more important that people follow the current public health measures,” he said.

“Fortunately, our current restrictions are enough to control the spread of the variant if people take the restriction seriously.”

Research shows that the Moderna vaccine is effective against the variant, Patterson said.

As of Monday, only 21 test results from southern labs had been received by the government, but all indicated the same variant.

All positive test results of COVID-19 are being sent south for variant testing.

Monday’s announcement comes as Iqaluit recorded nine new cases and nine recoveries, bringing the total number of active cases to 42 in the capital city, among the 47 in the territory.

There are currently three active caes in Kinngait and two in Rankin Inlet.

Over the weekend, the Government of Nunavut made a plea for those who were at the Chartroom lounge on April 14 to get tested for COVID.

Patterson said that roughly 20 per cent of all positive COVID-19 cases in Iqaluit originated from that night, and “it fits the description of a super-spreader event.”

The Chartroom had held a karaoke night on April 14, which Patterson said is “almost certainly a factor” in the spread. “Singing has been associated with other super-spreader events,” he said.

In addition to the territory-wide restrictions placed on restaurants and bars last week, Patterson also said that’s why karaoke and singing in those establishments have also been banned for the time being.

Meanwhile, Patterson said the other 80 per cent of cases come from public sites, workplaces and household or private get-togethers.

In addition to the Storehouse and Chartroom, Patterson had also previously identified Canadian North as a workplace of possible exposure and on Monday he indicated that more than half of the cases identified in the second half of last week were linked to the airline.

Patterson, alongside Health Minister Lorne Kusugak, also used Monday’s news conference as a chance to address concerns over the possible exposure notice issued for Canadian North flight 239 and the two related cases of COVID-19 later confirmed in Rankin Inlet.

“There is no truth to the rumours that these people left Iqaluit waiting for their COVID test results,” said Kusugak.

“The individuals who tested positive on Friday night in Rankin Inlet were not even identified as contacts until after their flight had departed.”

Instead, both Kusugak and Patterson pointed to fast and effective contact tracing and public health teams as the reasons why these cases were isolated, tested and confirmed so quickly.

Canadian North has shared the passenger manifest with contact tracing teams and all individuals sitting nearby the infected passengers have been contacted, Patterson said, adding that there has not been a confirmed case of transmission on domestic flights in Canada.

Despite this, all travellers leaving Iqaluit must continue to isolate themselves for two weeks once at a destination within Nunavut.

Patterson also clarified travel restrictions for Iqaluit.

“All intra-territorial, non-essential travel in and out of Iqaluit is prohibited or restricted with few exceptions,” he said.

“If you are not a medical traveller, an essential worker or returning to the community you live in, you should not be travelling and could be fined under the [public health] orders if you do.”

Although the origin of Iqaluit’s COVID-19 outbreak is still unknown, Patterson now says that COVID was definitely circulating in the City of Iqaluit before April 10 but at this point, it can’t reliably be traced back further than that.

As of Monday morning, there remained one individual for whom contact tracing teams do not yet have a link, but Patterson stopped short of calling this single case community transmission.

Patterson also said that health teams are in the process of offering surveillance testing to certain groups and facilities including taxi drivers, men’s shelters, the elders centre, staff at the boarding home and hospital and some correctional facilities.

To date, there have been 836 tests conducted in Iqaluit and 103 in Kinngait.

Nunavummiut who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 are asked to call the COVID hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. eastern time.

Since the outbreak began, Patterson said that more than 800 residents have contacted the hotline.

For updated information and resources on COVID-19 visit the Government of Nunavut’s website.

COVID-19 updates will continue this week on Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m. eastern time.



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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    I know we do not have any positive cases reported in the Kitikmeot Region. However, this does not mean we should let our guard down now or wait to be surprised by a case. With all of the positive cases in Yellowknife, as well as 90 contacts identified, and with the amount of people who have chosen to holiday in Yellowknife and high number of medical travel patients, wouldn’t it be nice to see a “mask recommended” policy in place for Government of Nunavut Offices?

  2. Posted by ugh on

    it would be really nice if everyone eligible would get their vaccine. this would go a long way. these anti-vaxxers want all the freedoms of going out but wont do their part.

    • Posted by Qavvigarjuk on

      Pretty pathetic that more Nunavumiut do not want to get the vaccine . Pretty selfish on their part. The moderna vaccine is safe folks! Just get it!

  3. Posted by Pam A on

    In the news conference one reporter asked why GN staff can not work in two places since all GN staff are working from home. Many GN staff remain in the office regardless of the lock down.

    • Posted by GN playing it loose on

      Yep. Exact same as last time only faster. The GN is slowly starting to let their employees come in. Many of us are getting the wink and nod from our bosses essentially saying start coming in because we have no idea how to manage you from home. The GN has botched Work-from-home badly, partly due to its infrastructure but also due to the old school mentality at the director level. It’s insane that GN departments aren’t listening to the Premier and CMO.

    • Posted by Hippy on

      Its about time GN employees are working ?

  4. Posted by Might as well on

    Mass testing would help contain spread

    • Posted by aputi on

      staying home is more effective, get vaccinated, wash your hands

  5. Posted by 1/2 baked Inuk on

    Until contact tracing can be completed to 100% satisfaction there should be a complete travel ban out of Iqaluit.

    Those who are approved to travel out of Iqaluit, essential workers should be required to complete a covid test 24 hours prior to departure.

    Stop the spread. If the government ain’t gonna implement these measures the airline should to protect their employees and all the communities the airline serves.

  6. Posted by Name withheld on

    24 hours of exposure to Covid , and than getting tested if you have it will be false negative. It will not show until at least 3 days after being expose.

    Get an approved letter from Dr Patterson , before being allowed on the plane, the Covid Team know too well who are being monitored and doing the contact tracing.

    Do you part as if you were down south where there are thousands of active cases of Covid.

    Arviat, Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet were required a letter before they can travel our of their community, Iqaluit, Kingait are no different from these communities who overcame Covid.

    Stop freaking out and learn to live with Covid as it is here for a long time. Do your part if you have been tested positive or named as contacted, self isolate, when out doing errands, keep distant, wear a mask

  7. Posted by Ya Right on

    They threaten fines when in 15 months there have been no fines issues to inviduals. The only one is the Chart Room for being over capacity.
    People are wandering around the City who are symptomatic and who have been ordered by Public health to isolate and they do nothing about it. I’ll stay home and wash my hands but the GN has no idea how to handle this and is unprepared.

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