MKO calls on province to declare uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak at Keeyask site in northern Manitoba

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
·3 min read

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. is calling on the Government of Manitoba to declare the Keeyask construction site as having an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak. Four MKO First Nations are involved in the project: Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, and York Factory Cree Nation.

On Monday, MKO and the First Nations met with Manitoba Hydro’s CEO and Hydro staff to obtain information on how they plan to contain the outbreak at the Keeyask Generating Station in northern Manitoba.

The First Nations wanted to know the exact number of workers who have left the Keeyask site since Oct. 20.

“Our meeting with Manitoba Hydro was extremely disappointing. It is clear that this corporation has no plan to address the uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak at the Keeyask construction site in Northern Manitoba,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee in a press release.

Due to this, the organization is urging Premier Brian Pallister as well as Health Minister Cameron Friesen to meet with their First Nations leaders as soon as possible.

“The province must recognize and declare that there is an uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19 at Keeyask. Failing to address this situation in an urgent manner will have dire consequences for the entire province,” said Settee.

The first case of COVID-19 at the Keeyask site was confirmed on Oct. 22. The MKO learned that there were 31 positive cases in the area on Sunday. Over 100 people are in isolation.

At least two people who tested positive had left the construction site. Contract tracing has identified that the virus has moved to approximately two more health regions in addition to the Northern health region.

“We are concerned about the communication being shared with people working at the Keeyask construction site,” said Settee.

“We have asked Manitoba Hydro to provide clearer, timelier communication to everyone in an effort to make it clear that there is an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak at Keeyask. We all must take this situation very seriously.”

The First Nation has been working directly with Dr. Michael Isaac, Regional Medical Health Officer for the Northern Health Region along with chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brett Roussin to express their concerns on how Manitoba Hydro is managing the outbreak.

In a letter sent to Pallister, the MKO claimed that they “have first-hand information that Manitoba Hydro is not communicating on the seriousness of the current situation to its workers in a transparent and clear manner.”

“This is not true. We have and continue to be in daily contact with our First Nation partners on the Keeyask project and nearby communities, sharing information as it’s updated. We are also sharing information with all Manitobans, including two news releases on Saturday and Monday,” said Manitoba Hydro media relations officer Bruce Owen on Tuesday.

“At Keeyask, we’re posting updates daily in common areas at the site on new test results for all staff, and have done so since the pandemic was declared. Updates include cumulative results and the number of workers in isolation at the site.”

Owens noted that a daily brief is also emailed to all contractors at the site to be shared with their workers providing the same data along with a summary of any new measures being implemented, including reminders of existing pandemic safety protocols.

"Crowns Minister Jeff Wharton announced in the House (Tuesday) that Keeyask is now red critical on the Pandemic Response System," said a provincial spokesperson.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun