Premier to sit out Christmas games because of Omicron
GN COVID-19 update warns of health-care service cuts, but gives green light to muted holiday celebrations
Premier P.J. Akeeagok will sit out this year’s Christmas games, something that’s normally part of his own holiday tradition, to keep his bubble small in light of the “alarming” increase in Omicron-related COVID-19 cases across Canada.
“Many of us were looking forward to a more normal Christmas like the one we had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Akeeagok said Tuesday during an update on the pandemic’s effect on Nunavut.
“I’m going to do my part to keep my family and my community safe.”
It was the first COVID-19 update since Akeeagok became premier and John Main became health minister in November. They reported two new cases in Pangnirtung on Monday, without confirming which strain of the virus had been detected. Those are the only cases across the territory, after the recovery of two people in Iqaluit who had tested positive earlier in December.
Akeeagok and Main called on Nunavummiut to continue following public health measures, including wearing masks, avoiding unnecessary travel, getting vaccinated, keeping social gatherings small, and avoiding contact with people who are at a high-risk of contracting the disease, including elders.
While there are no travel restrictions in place, it’s possible the Health Department might have to suspend travel in and out of communities if a case is detected, said the territory’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson.
Community events, such as Christmas games, that are popular around the holidays, can proceed, but indoor gatherings are limited to 50 per cent of the venue’s capacity or a maximum of 100 people.
“It’s Christmas. People should be able to have fun and celebrate,” Main said. “I believe it’s possible to stay safe and celebrate the season.”
Some communities will experience reduced health services — including access to flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, Main said.
He blamed what he said will be short-term health-care reductions on “a national trend in health staffing,” noting that the pandemic has “affected health care in negative ways.”
Communities will notice the service reductions differently in terms of what services will be affected and for how long, Main said, but he added service reductions should be short-term and only during the holiday season.
He cited emergency-only care at some health centres and limited quantities of vaccines as two things people across Nunavut might expect to see.
Patterson said “quickly changing information” about the Omicron variant forced the Health Department to rescind an order it recently made that allowed some communities to have larger gatherings.
“It’s very difficult to distinguish Omicron from the common cold,” Patterson said.
People who have travelled out of the territory will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days when they return. The quarantine requirement won’t apply to anyone who has received a third dose, or booster shot, of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Both Akeeagok and Main have received a third dose, the health minister said.
People who have received a booster shot are 75 per cent less likely to have a severe infection of COVID-19 or to require hospitalization, Patterson said.
As more and more Canadians make appointments to receive a third vaccination, it’s not clear yet whether Nunavut’s definition of what it means to be fully vaccinated will change. Until recently, anyone who had received two doses had been considered fully vaccinated.
“That’s an open question,” Patterson said. “The evidence is still being assessed.”
When asked whether a 14-day isolation period for teachers, who have travelled south for the holidays, might have on the start of school in January, Akeeagok said “everything’s on the table.”
He acknowledged that many Government of Nunavut employees, including teachers, will be affected by that requirement and that he is working with Ministry of Education staff to determine what the resumption of school will look like.