COVID outbreak in Nunavut’s capital | Polarjournal
The capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit, has a population of 7,740. The town is the administrative center of Nunavut and here is also the only major hospital of the territory. Since April 14, COVID cases have risen to 31 despite closures, masks and other measures. Image: C Soloviev

The COVID pandemic has barely stopped at the farthest corners. In Nunavut, the Arctic north of Canada, no case of the disease had emerged until last November. But then the number of cases rose sharply, especially in the municipality of Arviat. Only slowly the situation calmed down and with the start of the vaccinations of the population the authorities seemed to get the situation under control again. But the virus is still around and has now reached the capital of Iqaluit.

Last Wednesday, April 14, the first COVID case was recorded in Iqaluit. Since then, the number here has risen to 31. In addition, authorities reported two other cases in the hamlet of Kinngait yesterday Tuesday, but said they were not related to the outbreak in Iqaluit. The community is located just under 400 kilometres west of Iqaluit and was known as Cape Dorset until late February 2020. The town has a population of just under 1,400 and is considered the Inuit art capital of Nunavut.

Kinngait (ex-Cape Dorset) is located on the northeast corner of Hudson Bay and is situated on a small island offshore from the mainland. The inhabitants live primarily from hunting, fishing and art. The name change of the village was approved in a vote in 2019. Picture: Michael Wenger

Immediately after the COVID outbreak in Iqaluit, authorities had tried to get the situation back under control with contact tracing, mandatory masks, curfews and, as of Monday, school closures and a switch to online teaching. Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson left open at a press conference whether the infections in Iqaluit were community transmissions or whether the cases were unrelated. Patterson also could not yet confirm the origin of the outbreak, Nunatsiaq News reported. At the moment authorities are waiting for the test results, which will be made outside the territory.

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq tweeted the latest numbers and that those with the disease are doing well so far.

Prime Minister Joe Savikataaq reminded people to abide by the measures at all costs and to keep their distance, wear masks and not leave the house if possible. “I know it’s frustrating and a burden for many. But the more we follow the rules, the faster we can stop the transmission,” he told the media on Monday. In doing so, he alluded to images from Iqaluit over the weekend, when long lines had formed outside liquor stores and people had not kept their distance or worn masks.

Iqaluit has the only hospital in Nunavut that can offer intensive care beds. So far, Nunavut had been largely spared severe cases, officially recording four deaths out of 423 official COVID cases since November 2020. Image: Government of Nunavut

Nunavut had recorded its first COVID cases in November 2020. The commune of Arviat in particular was the centre of the outbreak and it took until March for the situation to recover. No COVID cases were recorded in the weeks leading up to the outbreak in Iqaluit. In return, the government had recorded successes in its vaccination programme. According to Premier Joe Savikataaq, 11,282 Nunavut residents have been fully vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine so far. 14,393 people had received a first dose, he wrote on Twitter. But despite vaccinations, the danger is not over. That’s because a severe outbreak would quickly push the fragile health care system in Nunavut, and only in Iqaluit, to its capacity limits. This is because the only large hospital is located in the capital and can only admit 35 patients at all. It is hoped that the government can count on the help of the population to keep the outbreak small.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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