The ben­e­fits of iso­la­tion

NUNAVUT DOESN’T HAVE A SIN­GLE CON­FIRMED CASE OF THE CORO­N­AVIRUS

Vancouver Sun - - PAN­DEMIC - tdaw­son@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/tyler­rdaw­son

Nunavut is the only prov­ince or ter­ri­tory in Canada that doesn’t have a con­firmed case of COVID-19, a sit­u­a­tion that’s a re­sult of the dif­fi­culty of get­ting to the ter­ri­tory, the ex­clu­sion of non-res­i­dents from vis­it­ing and strict pub­lic health mea­sures.

“We’ve taken the most dra­matic, ag­gres­sive steps on seclu­sion in the coun­try,” said Ge­orge Hickes, health min­is­ter for Nunavut, in an in­ter­view. “Re­ally, we have only four points of en­try into the ter­ri­tory un­less you’re com­ing up by snow­mo­bile or dog team.”

Mean­while, the ter­ri­tory’s sole mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, New Demo­crat Mu­mi­laaq Qaqqaq, wrote to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau on Thurs­day, re­quest­ing the clo­sure of the health in­fra­struc­ture gap in the prov­ince.

“Nu­navum­miut have con­sis­tently seen that fed­eral gov­ern­ment sup­ports are not eq­ui­tably de­liv­ered in our ter­ri­tory,” she wrote in her let­ter.

The ter­ri­tory has fol­lowed, in broad strokes, many of the same COVID-19 pre­ven­tive mea­sures that other ju­ris­dic­tions in Canada have in­tro­duced, such as bar­ring vis­i­tors from long-term care fa­cil­i­ties and hav­ing the ter­ri­tory’s nearly 40,000 res­i­dents main­tain phys­i­cal dis­tance from one an­other.

“The big­gest les­son of this is, act ag­gres­sively, fast. I think we’ve led the charge in just about ev­ery cat­e­gory that you want to talk about,” Hickes said.

Qaqqaq, who was not avail­able for an in­ter­view Thurs­day, wrote in her let­ter to Trudeau that there are ma­te­rial con­di­tions that make con­fronting the COVID-19 pan­demic chal­leng­ing in the ter­ri­tory: Many peo­ple live in over­crowded, mouldy hous­ing, and there’s a gen­eral lack of food and hous­ing se­cu­rity.

“Nu­navum­miut need to know that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is tak­ing the nec­es­sary steps to ad­dress these fun­da­men­tal health con­cerns, which al­low in­fec­tious dis­eases to spread in our com­mu­ni­ties,” she wrote.

Hickes said Nunavut does have some ad­van­tages with a gen­er­ally young pop­u­la­tion, but there is also a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion, such as a high num­ber of peo­ple with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

“If it gets into that de­mo­graphic ... it could be dis­as­trous,” Hickes said. How­ever, the ex­pe­ri­ence of deal­ing with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, Hickes said, also means the ter­ri­tory is ex­pe­ri­enced in deal­ing with con­tact trac­ing — key to track­ing down those who have been close to a per­son who has fallen ill. Hickes said Patty Hajdu, the fed­eral min­is­ter of health, has been re­cep­tive to any re­quests the ter­ri­tory has made.

All to­tal, 369 peo­ple have been un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the ter­ri­tory for COVID-19; 114 of them have been cleared, said Premier Joe Savikataaq, on Wed­nes­day.

Still, there are chal­lenges fac­ing the ter­ri­tory: Nunavut de­pends heav­ily on Ed­mon­ton, Yel­lowknife, Win­nipeg and Ot­tawa for med­i­cal care.

There’s one hos­pi­tal in Iqaluit, the cap­i­tal, and there is no ICU ca­pac­ity. While Qaqqaq wrote that there are seven ven­ti­la­tors in the ter­ri­tory, Hickes said that most COVID-19 cases need­ing ven­ti­la­tion or in­tu­ba­tion would need to be evac­u­ated.

Like the Northwest Ter­ri­to­ries — but un­like Yukon — Nunavut has more or less shut its borders to the rest of Canada. Air travel is the only way to get there. This, in part, made it eas­ier for a travel ban to be put in place and main­tained.

As of March 24, the prov­ince barred all non-res­i­dents from fly­ing into the ter­ri­tory. There are also strin­gent mea­sures in place for travel within the prov­ince, and for es­sen­tial work­ers re­ceiv­ing clear­ance to come to the ter­ri­tory for work. As well, the ter­ri­tory has said that if there are pos­i­tive cases con­firmed, the com­mu­nity will be iden­ti­fied.

Said Savikataaq: “All over Canada now the prob­lem is com­mu­nity in­fec­tions ... that’s the last thing we want here in Nunavut.”

Res­i­dents who have been in the south must self-iso­late at gov­ern­ment-des­ig­nated quar­an­tine sites in Ed­mon­ton, Win­nipeg, Ot­tawa or Yel­lowknife be­fore they are al­lowed to re­turn to the ter­ri­tory. As of April Tues­day, 431 peo­ple were iso­lated — 246 of them out-of-ter­ri­tory on med­i­cal travel.

“They’re un­der very strict self-iso­la­tion rules,” said Hickes. “At the end of the day, I think the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple ac­knowl­edge that it is for the safety of their com­mu­ni­ties, not just for them­selves, and for the ter­ri­tory as a whole.”

PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Nunavut re­ports no cases of COVID-19, partly be­cause it is re­mote but also as a re­sult of iso­la­tion mea­sures taken.

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