IQALUIT, Nunavut – Nunavut’s chief public health official says the capacity to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak is “stretched,” which is why the government has locked down the territory for two weeks in an effort to control COVID-19 cases.
The region reported its first case on November 6, and the total number jumped to 70 in less than two weeks.
Dr. Michael Patterson says the Department of Health has “some spare capacity” – but not much.
“Knowing that we are close to the maximum capacity at the moment, that is the rationale for implementing these requests,” Patterson said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Lorn Kosugak, Nunavut’s health minister, said the federal government had assured him that it would intervene “with the greatest possible assistance” if needed.
“We don’t want to go there, but if there is a need … for the army to come and support us, they can go that far,” Kosugak said.
Arviat, a community of about 2,800 people, has 54 active cases in Nunavut, eight in Whale Cove and six in Rankin Inlet – along the northwest coast of Hudson Bay. There are two other casualties in Sanikiluac, the southernmost community in Nunavut.
Patterson said all infected individuals are isolated at home and are doing well.
He said it was “too early to know” whether previous public health orders in Arviat stopped community transmission, and he could not indicate any event in particular that contributed to the spread of the disease.
He added that the situation is not that bad in other places.
“In other societies, things are more stable. We are in, or certainly closer to, stabilization and inclusion.”
Patterson said it is still not known how the new coronavirus reached Nunavut, which was free of COVID-19 during the first eight months of the pandemic. The investigation is ongoing.
Prime Minister Joe Savikatak urged Nunafumiot to follow the public health orders that went into effect on Wednesday.
“Don’t visit outside of your home. It does not clump or mix. “Do not travel unless absolutely necessary,” Savikatak said.
“That’s it guys. It’s time to take a stand and fight COVID-19. We need all of you to make sacrifices now to protect our communities.”
All non-essential schools and businesses have been closed, as have libraries, fitness centers, government offices and personal services.
Health centers are closed except for emergency cases, and Giquetani General Hospital in Iqaluit does not accept accommodation.
Gatherings are restricted to five people and are not permitted in homes.
Masks are mandatory in societies with active cases of COVID-19 and “highly recommended” in all other settings.
Nunavut went into a similar lockdown in March, but restrictions were lifted over the summer because the province had no cases.
There are some tests in the area at Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit. Patterson said the machine on Rankin Inlet can run four tests an hour, while the machine on Iqaluit can run eight.
This report was first published by The Canadian Press on November 18, 2020.
This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship