Canada’s Nunavut: Socially distanced, it’s one of the last places on Earth without coronavirus

Tuberculosis is still a legitimate health threat in Nunavut, the medical system is limited, and in so many cases, families with 10 or more people live under one roof. Then there is its sheer seclusion – a large part of its tiny population is scattered over a huge area in small hamlets.

“We know that this virus can have a really nightmarish effect in our community, so we’re trying to do everything we can,” Merlyn Recinos, mayor of Nunavut in Igloolik, said in a phone interview to POLITICO on Friday. “We had to take preventive measures because once it is in our church it will spread very quickly just because the churches are set up that way.”

Canada’s newest Covid-19 data Nationwide, 4,018 cases and 39 deaths were reported on Friday. The virus has appeared in each of the 10 provinces and two of its three territories – with the exception of Nunavut. The territory can be living proof that social distancing works.

A unique feature of Nunavut is that its capital, Iqaluit, and its 25 parishes are only connected to one another by air – and to the major cities in southern Canada.

This will make it easier for the virus to enter the area, but can make any emergency response more difficult if the coronavirus finds its way.

“I think the fact that we have fewer entry points than anywhere else in the world is one of the reasons why this is the last place,” said Nunavut Prime Minister Joe Savikataaq at a press conference on questions from POLITICO on Wednesday. “We don’t have roads, it’s just air access.”

Savikataaq used the public event to urge its citizens to maintain physical distance even though no cases of the virus were reported. He warned that ignoring the policy was “selfish” and “irresponsible”.

“Once it spreads from person to person in the community, we will have our greatest challenge,” said Savikataaq.

Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief medical officer, told reporters at the same event that the public should approach the situation as if they were crouching during a Piqsiq or snowstorm. It means, he added, that they should only come out for things like food.

“It will be a very long snow storm, but it is a way to protect all of us from the spread of the disease,” he said said.

Nunavut has a population of approximately 39,000, including nearly 8,000 in Iqaluit. Around 85 percent of Nunavut’s residents are Inuit.

To protect the region, the territorial government has introduced strict restrictions on travelers from other parts of the country.

This is unique in Canada. Despite widespread emergency statements, Canadians can still travel across provincial and territorial borders in the rest of the country.

As of Wednesday, only residents of Nunavut and critical workers have been allowed into the area. Before boarding a flight from the south, travelers must go through a 14-day isolation phase and get official approval from Patterson’s office.

“Nunavut has What are probably the most stringent travel and isolation rules in Canada right now? These are drastic measures, but for the safety and well-being of all Nunavummiut, ”said George Hickes, Nunavut’s health and finance minister, to the press at the Wednesday conference.

“I still believe that despite the measures we have taken, we are not safe. We have to make sure that we can control and isolate it when it appears in Nunavut.”

The federal government has announced one Covid 19 aid package of $ 305 million Support for the leadership of First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Savikataaq said Nunavut will receive approximately $ 22.5 million from the envelope.

With additional support from Ottawa, he said he asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to have medical care up and running at all times – because when the time comes, they will need it right away.

He said he also asked for federal economic support for Nunavut companies, and especially for major airlines.

The vulnerability of the Nunavut population is also an issue. It has long struggled with high respiratory diseases compared to the rest of Canada and internationally.

A Conference Board of Canada report Between 2009 and 2011, the area’s mortality rate from respiratory diseases was five times higher than the rest of the country.

The history of the region with tuberculosis was an important factor, Recinos said.

Last year Trudeau offered an official apology on behalf of the German government for dealing with tuberculosis in the Arctic between the 1940s and 1960s.

Recinos, in whose Igloolik hamlet lives 1,900 people and has no doctor, said this was an important reason why the area took the situation “very seriously” from the start.

“We had to be very proactive just because we had the possibility of a really nightmarish scenario in our minds,” he said.

Andy Blatchford reported this story from Ottawa.

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