Natalie Maersluft / Reuters
A large and isolated region in northeastern Canada came to a close this week as cases of COVID-19 crept into parts of the country with limited access to modern medical care.
More than 80 cases have been identified this month in Nunavut, where about 39,000 people, mostly Inuit, live in communities scattered across Mexico. The worst-hit area, Arviat, has 58 cases in a neighborhood with less than 3,000 people.
The new lock began on Wednesday and should last two weeks.
“I ask Nunavummiut to stay strong and stay focused, “Nunavut Prime Minister Joe Savikataak said on Friday, referring to residents.” Please don’t give him a chance to stay in any of our communities anymore. “
Many of Canada’s northern regions had maintained the pandemic with strict travel and isolation rules. The percentage of coronavirus usually remains lower among the First Nations compared to other groups in the country.
But there are signs that the dam is starting to crumble this fall as cases increase nationwide. In October, the Canadian Government Office for Local Services found an “alarming increase in the number of new and active cases of COVID-19” in the reserves of the First Nations.
The risks are far higher once COVID-19 reaches aviation communities, said Dr. Anna Banerjee of the University of Toronto, who studies respiratory diseases in local Arctic communities in Canada.
“In almost every chronic disease, they have higher levels,” Banerjee said, including comorbidities from diabetes to tuberculosis. “If it spreads, then I think you’ll see much higher morbidity rates, more severe infections, higher levels of intensive care, higher mortality rates.”
Nunavut has only one hospital with 35 emergency beds. Residents of the area must regularly fly south to urban centers such as Winnipeg and Ottawa for specialized care. For patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms in need of hospital care, “there may be huge delays for some of them,” Banerjee said.
Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, noted that if testing needs increase beyond local capacity, samples may need to be transferred to laboratories in the south. (In Calgary, researchers are piloting the delivery of test kits and personal protective equipment by drone.)
Like many regions in northern Canada, housing shortages mean that many people live in large households, making the isolation of COVID-19 patients challenging. In northern Saskatchewan, the CBC reported that some communities have deployed RV campers.
For all these reasons, Banerjee argues that residents of these regions should have priority in receiving vaccines once they become available.
Patterson said the territory and the federal government have discussed the possibility of Canadian military assistance in the event of a worsening outbreak.
“Obviously, the higher the incidence or frequency of infection in southern Canada, the greater the risk of further events such as this. [north], “Patterson said.