'It's a confirmed positive:' Nunavut records first case of COVID-19

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IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut, the last province or territory in Canada to remain officially free of COVID-19, has recorded its first case.

Chief public health officer Michael Patterson confirmed an infection Friday in the Hudson Bay community of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut's southernmost community, where about 850 people live.

Patterson said the individual was tested earlier in the week and results came back positive from a lab in Winnipeg.

"It has been tested by the gold standard in the country and it's a confirmed positive," Patterson said at a news conference. 

He said the individual had mild symptoms and was self-isolating -- as were family members -- and everyone was doing well. The Health Department started contact tracing Friday and a rapid response team was on standby.

"Right now, there's no evidence of spread within the community itself," Patterson said. 

Nunavut has had several instances of COVID-19 among mine workers, but the infections were deemed to have been brought in from outside the territory and so were not recorded.

Health officials were "going to the extreme of the public health orders" on Friday to limit any spread, Patterson said. 

Sanikiluaq residents now have to remain at home and limit contact with others, including family members not living in the same household. All public gatherings are restricted to five people and gatherings in homes aren't allowed. 

Trips to and from Sanikiluaq are banned except for shipments of cargo and for emergency purposes. Hunters can still travel outside the community, but may not go to another populated area.

All schools must close and students are to start learning from home, David Joanasie, Nunavut's education minister, said. Laptops, iPads and other materials are expected to arrive in the community by Tuesday. 

"We anticipate that this is going to be an adjustment for sure, but we ask for patience from parents and the community," Joanasie said.

Grocery stores must operate at reduced hours and shoppers are required to wear masks. All businesses -- except banks, gas stations, Canada Post and restaurants open for takeout -- are closed. All customers must remain two metres apart and no more than 10 people are allowed in lineups for services.

To respect the individual's privacy in the small town, Patterson would not confirm any details about the person's identity or travel history. 

"I don't want to contribute to the rumour mill or the blame game. We'll give that information as soon as we can, but we have to be certain first," he said. 

"I don't want to discuss any details because it's a very small community and it would be easy to slip up and give identifying information away."

Patterson said public health measures in the rest of Nunavut, including a travel bubble with the Northwest Territories and Churchill, Man., remain unchanged.

Nunavut does require anyone who leaves the territory to isolate in a southern hotel for 14 days before flying back. Essential workers, such as nurses and doctors, are exempt. 

Patterson would not confirm whether the infected individual had gone through isolation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press