Workers must have negative test result before they board flights to Nunavik

“What happened in Salluit showed us that we don’t want to take any risks”

Passengers wait to board a flight from Montreal to Kuujjuaq in 2015. The region’s health board continues to oversee screening of travellers at the Montreal airport, but the board is also in the process of setting up a new, off-site screening clinic for travellers to Nunavik. (File photo)

By Sarah Rogers

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services said it now requires workers travelling to the region to have test results showing they are free of COVID-19 before they board flights to Nunavik.

The new policy is in response to an incident in Salluit earlier this month where a construction worker arrived in the community to find he had tested positive for COVID-19.

The worker was one of a group of five who flew to the Hudson Strait community to do contract work for Kativik Ilisarnilirniq. All five were put in isolation and then flown out of the region a few days later.

Now, the health board said it’s stepping up its screening efforts at the Montreal airport to ensure all construction workers—and eventually, anyone travelling to Nunavik—are confirmed to be free of COVID-19 before they board their flights north.

“What happened in Salluit showed us that we don’t want to take any risks,” said Dr. Marie Rochette, Nunavik’s director of public health. “We’re looking to improve our training so we can have those results before people are boarding. We changed our policy quite fast—not just for Salluit, but for all the communities.”

For visiting contractors, Rochette said the health board is asking their employers to have those test results confirmed before they even arrive at the airport to fly north.

As of Aug. 3, all flights headed to Nunavik must leave from the Montreal airport to help streamline that screening process.

But anyone flying to or returning to the region is still permitted to spend their 14-day quarantine period in Nunavik. Rochette said for many people that makes most sense, especially if they have their own dedicated housing where they can be guaranteed a private space.

Unlike Nunavut, where the government has hired security staff to monitor people in quarantine at isolation hubs, there is no supervised quarantine in Nunavik.

Currently, Nunavik has no active cases of COVID-19. As of July 26, 432 residents have been tested for the virus, as well as 1,663 visitors.

Health officials said reuniting families in and outside the region a “priority”

While much of the region has already reopened, flights to and from the region remain restricted to essential travel.

But health officials are looking at how to allow Nunavimmiut to reconnect with family in different jurisdictions.

The NRBHSS is in discussions with the Government of Nunavut about creating a travel bubble that would allow commercial flights between the two regions.

“We would like to open the two regions but we have to make sure that community leaders are comfortable with that,” Rochette said.

Rochette said regional leaders are not yet open to the idea of relaunching commercial flights between Montreal and Nunavik, but they are looking at ways to help Nunavimmiut reunite with family members.

“We are talking with community leaders about southern Inuit who would like to visit their families up North, so we’re in discussion about how to do that without putting community members at risk,” Rochette said.

“That’s our priority right now.”

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