Nunavut fights COVID outbreak | Polarjournal
The self-governed territory of Nunavut covers about one-fifth of Canada, making it the largest territory in the country. But only about 39,400 people (2019, estimated) live on the nearly 2 million square kilometers. The COVID outbreak could quickly push Nunavut’s health system to its limits as the disease continues to spread. Photo: Q. Soloviev via Wikipedia

Nunavut in Canada’s high Arctic north had closed its borders and introduced strict security measures with the onset of the COVID pandemic. With success, because the territory was spared from infection while the number of cases increased in the rest of Canada. The second wave, which has been sweeping the world since the beginning of autumn, also seemed to bounce off Nunavut at first thanks to the measures. Only in foreclosed mines COVID cases had occurred, but these did not affect the population. But the winning streak is over since last week: COVID has reached also Nunavut’s population.

Since the first case was recorded in the small municipality of Sanikiluaq last Wednesday, the number of cases discovered has soared. The municipality of Arviat, 1,300 kilometres from the capital Iqaluit, is in the center of an outbreak. A total of 54 COVID-positive people are listed here due to the fast contact tracing and the tests that were then carried out. Other cases are also recorded in Rankin Inlet, Whale Cove and Sanikiluaq, as Nunatsiaq News reports on its website. Apart from the latter place, all places are close to each other on the west coast of the Hudson Bay.

The affected hamlets of Arviat, Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet are located about 1,300 kilometres from the capital Iqaluit on the west coast of Hudson Bay. The other affected place, Sanikiluaq, is also less than 1,000 kilometers away. Rankin Inlet is the largest of the three hamlets with 2,842 inhabitants, followed by Arviat with 2,657, and Whale Cove with 450. Sanikiluaq is home to around 800 people. Photo: Goggle Maps

“This is it, folks. It’s time to stand and fight against COVID-19»

Joe Savikataaq, Prime Minister of Nunavut

Authorities believe the virus may have been introduced by one or more people who had been in Winnipeg, neighboring Manitoba. This, despite that all residents must go through a 2-week quarantine before they are allowed to return to Nunavut. But Nunavut’s Public Health Chief Officer, Dr. Michael Pattinson, said in a conference call Monday that the outbreak appeared to be linked to the isolation hotel in Winnipeg. “We don’t yet know how this happened or where or how,” he said. “But our biggest priority now is to get the outbreak under control.” That is why the authorities reacted quickly and, since yesterday, have issued a lockdown for the entire territory. This means closing of all schools and non-essential shops, home office for most workers, cancellations of all events, while health centers and the only hospital in the region are open only for emergencies. In principle, the same measures apply as in March, Dr Pattinson and Premier Minister Joe Savikataaq said at a press conference yesterday. “This is it, folks. It’s time to stand and fight against COVID-19,” the Premier said. In addition to the lockdown, masks, disinfectants and other hygiene products and health personnel have also been sent to the affected hamlets.

All places in Nunavut, with the exception of Iqaluit, are municipalities, but are officially called hamlets. Health care consists primarily of health centres and public health service personel who travel to the hamlets if needed. COVID has already identified the first limits. Therefore, the lockdown should quickly reduce the numbers again. Images: All via Wikimedia Commons; Map: Hwy43 – Own work, CC BY 3-0 /Whale Cove: Tristan in Ottawa / Sanikiluaq: Leslie Philipp

Michael Pattinson also said at the conference that while the regional health system can still handle the cases because patients are not showing severe symptoms. But he explained that the capacity of the health system was already “stretched”. At present, however, the situation is is on a good way, as there is no evidence of community transmission except for Arviat. Nevertheless, many citizens are concerned about the outbreak, but also about the lockdown, especially now with the beginning of the dark season, as was shown at the conference on Monday. There, citizens had the opportunity to address questions and concerns to Premier Minister Savikataaq and Chief Officer Dr. Michael Pattinson, Nunatsiaq News writes.

Why Winnipeg matters to Nunavut

Many people have also expressed their opinion about the possible origin of the outbreak, because Winnipeg plays an important role, especially for pregnant women. Because the largest city in the province of Manitoba is closer for many people and is better equipped for pregnant women than Iqaluit is. Serious health cases also can be better dealt with in the city, which has around 750,000 people. Until further notice, pregnant women can travel to Winnipeg for childbirth despite the lockdown, although COVID is still raging in Manitoba and the health system is stretched there, too. But both Pattinson and Premier Minister Savikataaq are hopeful that the existing measures will work, and they are calling out to the people to help to get through this now and to follow the rules so that the situation is resolved soon. Because it affects everyone and can be resolved only by cooperation.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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