No more ‘drastic public health measures’: Canada’s Arctic territory of Nunavut releases COVID-19 path forward plan

A file photo of Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson. In a news release Tuesday, he says while some risks remain, the territory is no longer as limited in its safety options.(Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

In its plan, territory says COVID-19 can be treated like any other vaccine-preventable disease

COVID-19 can now be treated like any other “vaccine-preventable disease,” according to the Nunavut government’s newly released long-term plan for dealing with the pandemic.

The document released Tuesday and called Nunavut’s Path: Living with COVID-19, says the end goal is to lift the public health emergency, which has been in place for over a year.

“The virus is now a vaccine-preventable disease that no longer requires immediate community shutdowns, drastic public health measures, or a complete change to our way of life,” says the document.

The plan, it says, is to move from existing public health measures to what it calls “baseline” measures. Then, once all age groups are eligible for the vaccine and vaccines become available, it will begin the development and application of new baseline measures, and then it will lift the public health emergency.

Everything the territory has learned so far since the start of the pandemic will allow Nunavut to take this step forward, said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, in a written statement.

“While certain risks remain, we are no longer as limited in our options or in the choices we make to keep Nunavummiut safe,” Patterson said.

In the plan, it says the lessons learned, increased capacity in testing and response, and the availability of vaccines “have greatly reduced the risks the virus poses to Nunavummiut.”

The plan, the release says, will be guided by:

  • Community vaccination uptake, which the territory calls its “most valuable benchmark” and the most effective way to mitigate risk.
  • Status of COVID-19 in Nunavut, including active case count.
  • Status of vaccination rates and of COVID-19 cases in neighbouring jurisdictions.
  • The territory’s testing and response capacity.
  • Emergence of, and vaccine effectiveness on, variants of concern, which the territory says in the plan “represent the most significant risk factor.”
Baseline restrictions

The territory says until all Nunavummiut of all ages have the opportunity to be vaccinated, some level of public health measures will continue to be necessary “to act as a safety net in our communities.”

In the document, the “baseline restrictions” (least restrictive measures) needed to manage existing risk of COVID-19 will apply across the territory.

They include some of the eased measures that came into effect at the end of July, like no more mandatory masks in public places, though masks are still “strongly recommended,” and mandatory distancing in public places including grocery stores.

The plan also says indoor gatherings in private and public spaces will be capped at 15 people plus household residents in dwellings; 15 people in non-dwellings; 20 people in group counselling and support groups; and 25 people for swimming groups.

In halls and conference spaces, 75 per cent capacity or 100 people, whichever is less, will be allowed; same goes for theatres and places of worship. Restaurants’ capacity can go to 75 per cent with two metres between tables and people in line. The capacity at arenas, libraries, museums and galleries will be at 50 per cent or 50 people, whichever is less, and arenas may have a maximum of 50 spectators.

In long-term care facilities, continuing care centres and boarding homes, there may be a maximum of two visitors per resident; masks will still be mandatory for all visitors over age four and only immediate family can go.

Taxis can accept multiple fares with masks mandatory. There will be no limit on outdoor gatherings, parks and playgrounds. Essential and non-essential services are open; in-territory travel allowed and, schools, Nunavut Arctic College and daycares will open.

Vaccine uptake to help determine restrictions in communities

The plan also outlines public health measures based on three separate, community-specific vaccination levels, and identifies how to declare future outbreaks.

The three vaccine uptake thresholds are:

  • 75 per cent or greater of the eligible population is vaccinated.
  • 50 to 74 per cent of the eligible population is vaccinated.
  • 49 per cent or less of the eligible population is vaccinated.

Any community with less than 75 per cent uptake will have higher restrictions, it says. The level of risk will be further assessed based on the COVID-19 variants’ impact on vaccine effectiveness, new and emerging public health evidence, and COVID-19 status in the territory, the document reads.

Vaccination levels will also guide the school reopening plans in communities with COVID-19 cases. It says schools won’t necessarily close when COVID-19 is introduced to a community.

It also says every two weeks, Patterson will either re-introduce or increase restrictions, “pause” for further assessment, or allow more programs and services to open.

As ever, the premier reminded residents to get tested if feeling sick and to get vaccinated if they have not already done so.

“As Nunavut works to a time when COVID-19 public health emergencies will no longer be necessary, it will be the actions of all Nunavummiut that determine our success,” said Premier Joe Savikataaq in a news release.

“Everyone should make choices that will help keep our families, friends and communities safe.”

The full plan is available on the territory’s website here.

Related stories from around the North: 

CanadaOutbreak declared over in Arctic Canadian city of Iqaluit, says chief public health officer, CBC News

Finland: Santa joins former Eurovision winner Lordi at Lapland vaccination clinic to help boost jab uptake in Finland, Yle News

Greenland:  Greenland reports eight new COVID-19 cases, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Cruise ship arrives in Skagway, Alaska after passenger flown home with COVID-19, CBC News

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