Natalie Maerzluft / Reuters
A large and isolated region in northeastern Canada went into a lockdown this week as cases of COVID-19 creep up in parts of the country with limited access to advanced medical care.
More than 80 cases have been identified this month in Nunavut, where about 39,000 people, mostly Inuit, live in communities spread over an area the size of Mexico. The hardest hit area, Arviat, has 58 cases in a village of fewer than 3,000 people.
The new block started on Wednesday and is set to last for two weeks.
“I ask Nunavummiut to stay strong and stay focused, “said Nunavut’s Prime Minister Joe Savikataaq on Friday, referring to the area’s residents. Do not give it a chance to take more hold of any of our society. “
Many of Canada’s northern regions had kept the pandemic at bay with strong travel and isolation rules. Coronavirus rates have generally remained lower among First Nations than other groups in the country.
But there are signs that the dam is starting to break in the fall as cases rise nationally. In October, the Canadian government’s Department of Initial Services identified an “alarming increase in the number of new and active COVID-19 cases” on First Nations reserves.
The risks are far higher when COVID-19 reaches the fly-in community, Dr. Anna Banerji from the University of Toronto, who studies respiratory diseases in Canada’s native Arctic communities.
“Almost any chronic condition, they have higher rates,” Banerji said, including comorbidities from diabetes to tuberculosis. “If it spreads, then I think you’ll see much higher morbidity rates, more serious infections, higher rates of ICU admissions, higher death rates.”
Nunavut has only one hospital with 35 beds for emergency care. Residents of the territory routinely fly south to city centers like Winnipeg and Ottawa for special care. For patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms who need hospitalization, “for some of them, there may be major delays,” Banerji said.
Nunavut’s head of public health, Dr. Michael Patterson, noted that if testing needs increase beyond local capacity, it may be necessary to fly samples to laboratories in the south. (In Calgary, scientists supplying test kits and personal protective equipment are piloting drones.)
Like many regions in northern Canada, housing shortages mean that many people live in large households, making isolation of COVID-19 patients challenging. In northern Saskatchewan, the CBC reported that some communities have deployed RV campers.
For all these reasons, Banerji argues that residents of these regions should be given priority to receive vaccines once they are available.
Patterson said the territory and the federal government have discussed the possibility of Canadian military assistance in the event of a worsening outbreak.
“It is clear that the higher the rate or rate of infection in southern Canada, the greater the risk of further events like this where it comes from. [north]Said Patterson.