Arctic Canada: new COVID-19 restrictions imposed in Nunavut hamlet

The hamlet of Pangnirtung. (Emily Ridlington/CBC)
With two new cases in Pangnirtung, government officials say new restrictions are necessary. While they have yet to confirm the variant, increased precautions were made due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in Southern Canada. (Photo: Emily Ridlington/CBC)

Pangnirtung saw its first two cases of COVID-19 on Monday, according to Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson, bringing Nunavut from zero active cases to two.

Patterson asked people to get vaccinated, avoid unnecessary travel, wear masks and keep social circles small over the holidays to avoid further spread.

Premier P.J. Akeeagok doubled down on that message in a news conference Tuesday.

“I know many of us were hoping for a more normal Christmas…. As anyone who knows me knows how much I love the holiday season especially the Christmas games. But I will not be taking part in any games,” the premier said.

“It’s not time to let our guard down. We are seeing rising cases of Omicron across the country and the statistics are alarming.”

Akeeagok said the best gift Nunavummiut can give each other is good health.

Public health expects confirmation of the positive test results out of Pangnirtung later Tuesday, but new restrictions in the community go into effect immediately, including restricting travel in and out of the community to essential cases only.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, imposed new restrictions in Pangnirtung Tuesday after 2 COVID-19 cases were detected. (Photo: Jane George/CBC)

“It is highly unlikely that these are false positive results and we must act accordingly,” said Patterson.

“At this time, we do not know which variant this is, but in light of the threat of Omicron, we are tightening public health measures in the community to limit possible spread to other communities. We will know the variant strain within approximately a week.”

Patterson said the territory introduced new restrictions in Pangnirtung because of the increased transmissibility of Omicron over other variants.

“Omicron can spread very quickly even among those who have had two doses of the vaccine,” he said, adding that people who have not had their booster should arrange a booster dose.

If cases are detected in other Nunavut communities, it is likely health authorities will introduce similar travel restrictions.

In Pangnirtung, the following restrictions are now in effect:

  • Only essential travel in and out of the community is permitted.
  • Outdoor gatherings are restricted to 50 people.
  • Indoor gatherings in dwellings are limited to 10 people, plus household members.
  • Indoor public gatherings are limited to 25 people or 50 per cent capacity.
  • Gyms and fitness centres are limited to 25 people or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less, for solo workouts only.
  • Places of worship are limited to 50 people or 25 per cent capacity, with no singing allowed.
  • Arenas are limited to 50 people or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less, plus 50 spectators.
  • Restaurants are limited to 25 per cent capacity. No karaoke, dancing, or live music.
  • Group counselling sessions are limited to 10 people.
  • Parks remain open but on-site buildings must close.
  • Schools can open under these restrictions when classes resume after the holiday break.
Healthcare service reductions coming, says Main

Health Minister John Main said Nunavut’s health care resources are “stretched” despite the government’s work to recruit healthcare workers.

Some health centres will be on emergency-only services over the holidays and some communities will be rolling out vaccines in limited quantities, he said. Vaccinations will resume in 2022 in any communities that see disruptions over the holidays.

Main linked the staffing challenges to those seen across the country.

Health Minister John Main said the government worked to avoid service reductions in communities for the holidays, but some vaccine programs will be limited. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

“I am asking Nunavummiut to do their part to stay safe from COVID-19 over the holidays,” he said.

Main also said he and all Nunavummiut are grateful for healthcare workers in the territory, who have had little time off and may be working over the holidays.

He thanked them “for their sacrifice and dedication to the care of Nunavummiut.”

“It’s incredible,” he said.

What to do if you have symptoms

Anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms is advised to call the COVID hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET or notify their community health centre by phone.

Please do not go to the health centre in person.

COVID-19 vaccines are available to all Nunavummiut aged 5 and older and boosters are available for anyone 12 years and older. Contact your health centre to make an appointment.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Rapid response team heading to Old Crow, Yukon, to tackle COVID-19, CBC News

Finland: COVID-19 surge casts shadow over tourism in Finnish Lapland, Yle News

Greenland: New strategy activated to manage COVID-19 outbreak in Upernavik, Greenland, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland extends COVID-19 measures for at least two weeks, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway imposes partial pre-Christmas COVID lockdown, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: COVID-19: Sweden imposes new restrictions as infections rise, Radio Sweden

Avery Zingel, CBC News

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