The Mikisew Cree First Nation says a variant of COVID-19 that originally surfaced in the U.K. has arrived in Fort Chipewyan, Alta.
The hamlet is in northern Alberta about 228 kilometres from the N.W.T. border. According to information published by the government of Alberta, there are more than 2,200 cases of this variant in the province.
Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Peter Powder said they learned of the arrival of the variant Thursday afternoon in a phone call from Alberta Health.
Powder said he doesn't know how the variant arrived in the community, but their experience so far during the pandemic has prepared them for new cases.
"We've done really well," Powder said. "We've only had three cases before this."
Powder said the Mikisew Cree immediately consulted with Métis and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation leadership, and made the safety of elders a priority.
"We talked about how we're going to keep the elders safe," Powder said, adding they've minimized visitation and movement at the elders' centre.
Powder wants everyone in Fort Chipewyan to continue to follow guidelines around social distancing and isolation, especially if they've been identified as contacts associated with the new cases.
"We want everyone to follow the rules," he said. "This is serious."
Powder also wants all adults to take advantage of a vaccine clinic in the community Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"A lot of adults did not take the vaccine," he said. "We encourage them to take the vaccine so it reduces the possibility of spreading COVID-19."
Anyone already inoculated should still follow rules
Anyone with symptoms listed on the news release is asked to get tested for COVID-19 because the variant detected is far more contagious and transmissible than other strains of COVID-19, the release says.
Anyone with known exposure to a COVID-19 case, even if their swab tested negative, must still isolate for 14 days from the day of exposure.
The release also says those who have been inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine must adhere to community public health measures in place to minimize the possibility of transmission. That includes staying home when feeling sick, wearing a mask and physical distancing from others.
The news of the variant comes shortly after the Fort Chipewyan winter road, which connects the Northern Alberta community to the Northwest Territories, closed for the season on Tuesday at noon. There is no vehicle access to the community while the road is closed.
As of Friday afternoon, there are no reported active cases of COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories.