Arctic Canada: Nunavut to ease public health measures in 15 communities

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok, seen here in January, says rapid tests are being distributed to critical businesses in Iqaluit and in other communities. (Photo: Steve Silva/CBC)

Fifteen Nunavut communities will be under less-restrictive public health measures starting Monday as their COVID-19 case counts subside.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson announced the changes Tuesday morning during a virtual COVID-19 news conference.

Health measures are easing in Arviat, Baker Lake, Chesterfield Inlet, Clyde River, Gjoa Haven, Grise Fiord, Kimmirut, Kinngait, Kugluktuk, Naujaat, Pond Inlet, Qikiqtarjuaq, Sanirajak, Whale Cove and Igloolik.

In all those except Igloolik, up to 50 people will be able to gather outside. Indoor gathering restrictions are changing so 10 people plus household members can gather.

In Igloolik, those numbers are 25 for outdoor and five for indoor gatherings.

Other changes include increased capacity for restaurants, gyms and other facilities.

Restrictions are not changing in Arctic Bay, Cambridge Bay, Coral Harbour, Iqaluit, Kugaaruk, Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet, Resolute Bay, Sanikiluaq and Taloyoak.

Nunavut has 352 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday. Patterson said about 90 per cent of those are the Omicron variant, though Nunavut is still seeing some cases of the Delta variant.

Rapid tests for essential services

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok said the Department of Economic Development and Transportation has started distributing rapid tests to critical businesses in Iqaluit and in other communities. Those include taxis, food retail operations, emergency home repair businesses, meat and fish services, cargo operators and airport maintainers.

“In the coming weeks, as we receive more rapid access tests from the Government of Canada, we will expand distribution to all businesses that want them,” he said.

Patterson said it’s important to maintain those services because outbreaks there would have a greater impact on communities than other services such as schools.

He noted schools are the next priority after businesses.

Ronnie McGregor, the business administrator for Caribou Cabs in Iqaluit, said his company asked for tests last week and received roughly 400 of them a couple days ago.

“It was very fast. We were very proactive in wanting those tests, so we were happy to receive them,” he said.

Ronnie McGregor, the business administrator for Caribou Cabs in Iqaluit, says his company has received around 400 rapid tests. (Photo: Matisse Harvey/CBC News)

Two of the taxi company’s drivers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past month, he said, and the rapid tests now mean any more cases can be tested for quickly.

“It’s only positive, right? It allows us to be very [proactive], and if a driver does feel like he’s got symptoms — well we can test and get a [result] in 15 minutes,” he said.

“[It’s] a very effective way of knowing quickly, and that way if we would have a positive test, we could take the driver off the road and isolate them immediately.”

Missed Tuesday's update? Watch it here:

Call for correctional staff

Justice Minister David Akeeagok said the territory has openings for correctional staff at its facilities. Several facilities currently have COVID-19 cases that are affecting staff.

“I would like to take this opportunity to call for anyone with correctional training,” he said.

At the Aaqqigiarvik Correctional Healing Facility in Iqaluit, he said there are currently eight active cases of COVID-19, seven of which involve staff members.

Akeeagok said there are also two cases among staff at the Rankin Inlet Healing Facility and Women’s Correctional Facility.

With files from Matisse Harvey

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Canada’s Northwest Territories reports 15th COVID-19 death as active cases decrease, CBC News

Finland: Finnish PM seeks to lift all Covid restrictions in February, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland widens alcohol bans in order to control spread of COVID-19, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Murmansk tightens COVID-19 restrictions while Norway eases them, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Amid record Covid-19 cases in both countries, Norway ends mandatory entry quarantine for travelers from Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden to lift almost all COVID-19 restrictions from February 9th, Radio Sweden

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