Health Minister George Hickes has declared a public health emergency in Nunavut due to COVID-19 concerns. This “unprecedented step” was taken based on the advice of Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson, said Hickes.

Anyone who has arrived in the territory since March 15 and is not in an “essential service delivery position,” should immediately start to self-isolate for 14 days, stated Patterson in a news release.

“We all have a responsibility. Our time is right now to limit the impact of COVID-19 in Nunavut. Everyone needs to participate. Everyone needs to buy into these plans. Otherwise, all these things that we’re doing, all these drastic measures, we’re taking are to no avail, to no effect,” said Health Minister George Hickes on March 18 in Iqaluit. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

In other words, after landing in Nunavut the individual should go straight home and not leave his/her home for two weeks, despite feeling healthy.

However, exceptions will be made for people providing “essential services.”

During the press conference, Patterson explained, “for nurses and RCMP and other first responders, and also for essential municipal services, we are going to be looking at ways of enhanced screening for those people.” The screening will be followed by a daily check in for symptoms. If symptoms for COVID-19 do appear, the individual will be immediately withdrawn from work, said Patterson.

These exceptions however will not be made if the individual is returning from “high risk areas,” or places where transmission is high.

Tests and swabbing
Between 50 to 60 people have been tested and approximately half of the test results have been received, said Premier Joe Savikataaq.

After individuals are swabbed, their samples are flown down south to be tested. The test results are then being emailed or faxed to Nunavut’s Department of Health. People are then being notified of their results by phone as quickly as possible.

Since Tuesday night, health staff have started doing home swabs in some communities, announced Patterson. Health staff are visiting homes to collect samples from individuals, who have contacted their local health centre and are deemed or found to be at risk for COVID-19.

This action is being taken to prevent such individuals from going to the health centre or emergency room, he explained.

As of today, there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut.

About 10 to 15 people, who were self-isolating, have been cleared of self-isolation.

Medical travel
All non-urgent medical travel is to be rescheduled. Physicians, who are in Nunavut, will continue to visit communities.

The number of “physicians coming from the south are already being limited and cancelled,” said Patterson. This is partially because institutions down south are needing physicians to provide medical care for COVID-19.

Shelters and gatherings
Patterson said the virus entering crowded shelters is “quite a concern.” He assured that increased efforts are being made to maintain cleanliness and social distancing within the shelters.

“The city of Iqaluit, I believe is looking at other options to expand the space or what they can do to further support residents in maintaining social distancing,” he said.All bars within the territory will be closed within the next 48 hours, while restaurants will only provide take-out or delivery services.

All churches are being asked to close for “routine services,” said Patterson.

“We do not want to interrupt funerals. If we could find ways to hold memorials outdoors, that would be acceptable. But mass gatherings of any sort are going to be at risk,” said Patterson.

Government of Nunavut
The GN will continue to provide services, but at a slower pace. The government will have “non-essential public servants” working from home, effective, by end of day, on Friday.

“We’re asking you not to panic,” said Savikataaq, noting that some people are hoarding toilet paper and non-perishable food.

“We’ve been assured by retailers that supplies will keep coming in … and leave some for others that can’t afford to stock up and buy up,” he explained.

Protective measures
The government recommends taking the following steps to protect yourself from the virus:

-Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds
-Engage in social distancing (avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing)
-Stay home, if you feel sick
-Call your healthcare centre if you are experiencing symptoms (fever, cough and/or   difficulty breathing)
-Cough into your elbow

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Rajnesh Sharma

Rajnesh Sharma is a Canadian journalist, who has extensively travelled the world to experience various cultures. She has lived and worked internationally over the past decade, meeting and interviewing...