Iqaluit to ease public health restrictions Thursday, Pfizer doses coming for teens

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IQALUIT, Nunavut — Iqaluit will start easing public health restrictions on Thursday as the city continues to recover from a COVID-19 outbreak.

Schools will reopen that day for part-time in-class learning, people can gather in groups of five indoors and workplaces will be able to reopen with mandatory mask-wearing.

Outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed starting Thursday and daycares can also open. All parks and playgrounds can reopen and gyms can open for solo workouts with masks.

Nine active cases of COVID-19 remain in Iqaluit, while 244 people have recovered since the city's first case was reported on April 14. No new cases were reported Monday.

Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said more restrictions will be lifted in about a week if cases continue to drop.

"Case counts in Iqaluit continue to fall and vaccine uptake in the city is high among adults," Patterson said.

He also said the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine means the spread in Iqaluit has been limited. More than 80 per cent of adults in Iqaluit have had at least one dose of the Moderna vaccine to date.

"These factors make it safe to ease restrictions in Iqaluit," Patterson said.

Iqaluit has been under a strict lockdown since April 15, with schools, workplaces and non-essential businesses closed.

Travel remains restricted in and out of Iqaluit and anyone who travels to the city for medical or essential reasons must isolate for 14 days when they return to their home community.

"These eased measures are not an excuse to take chances, but a good opportunity to continue to make progress in living with the virus," said Premier Joe Savikataaq.

The territory will also start to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people ages 12 to 17 on June 15. It will start in Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet and Clyde River and expand to the rest of the territory throughout June.

A mass vaccination clinic is also planned for Iqaluit from June 16 to June 19.

The territory expects to receive just over 9,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from Ontario in exchange for doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Patterson said there are about 4,300 teenagers in Nunavut, so there will be enough vaccine to give each eligible person both doses.

Nunavut did not initially offer the Pfizer vaccine because of its cold storage requirements of between -60 C and -80 C. Those requirements have since changed and the vaccine can be stored at typical refrigerator temperatures.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2021.

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

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