Nunavut confirms 1st case of COVID-19

·4 min read
Residents of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, are being asked to remain at home and to avoid mingling with anyone outside of their household after the territory confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. (Google Canada)
Residents of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, are being asked to remain at home and to avoid mingling with anyone outside of their household after the territory confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. (Google Canada)

Nunavut's chief public health officer has confirmed Nunavut's first case of COVID-19, in Sanikiluaq.

Dr. Michael Patterson confirmed the case on Friday. A sample was collected from the affected person early this week and the sample was tested in Winnipeg.

"It's been tested by the gold standard in the country," Patterson said.

Because of the flight paths to Sanikiluaq, the sample was sent directly to the microbiology lab in Winnipeg, instead of being tested in Nunavut first.

He said contact tracing in the community is underway and the territory's rapid response team is "on standby to help manage the situation should it become necessary."

Patterson said it's too early to say how the person contracted the virus. He said the person went in to isolation when symptoms developed. The person's symptoms include a fever and cough.

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Residents in the community of about 900 people are being asked to remain at home and to avoid mingling with other residents who are not part of their household, including family members.

"It is important that health measures are followed by everyone and that we all do our part to quickly contain a potential spread in the community," Patterson said in a statement.

The territory said in the release that the affected person and their family are in isolation and doing well. As of noon on Friday, all travel to and from Sanikiluaq is restricted to cargo and emergencies, the release says.

A scheduled flight to the community on Sunday with individuals returning from the southern isolation hub has been postponed for the moment. Nunavut residents are required to spend two weeks in hotel isolating before they can board flights to Nunavut.

Emergency services are to remain open while grocery stores are to implement reduced hours. Shoppers must now wear a mask while in stores.

All for-profit and not-for-profit businesses have been ordered by the government to close, with the exception of grocery stores, fuel and motor vehicle services stations, financial institutions, Canada Post and restaurants open for take-out services. All customers must remain two metres apart at all times and no more than 10 people are permitted in a lineup at a time.

WATCH | Nunavut news conference on COVID-19:

All schools, including the Nunavut Arctic College, are ordered closed to all but essential work. Schools are closed in stage 4 of the Department of Education's COVID-19 response plan.

Laptops and tablets have been sent to the community, but the government is still waiting on internet sticks to distribute to facilitate remote learning.

Public gatherings are restricted to a max of five people, which gives the ability for a family to walk down the street together. There are to be no gatherings in homes.

"There's not a lot of room to move to make the measures more severe," Patterson said. After contract tracing is complete, the office of the chief public health officer will evaluate the restrictions.

Restrictions could be eased as soon as a few days from now, but Patterson said he has no definite date in mind.

The restrictions for the rest of the territory remain unchanged. The other 24 communities can continue to have as many as 15 visitors to their homes, in addition to those who live in the home.

'We've prepared for this,' premier says

"Please remember that a confirmed case is not a reason to panic. We've prepared for this and are responding," said Premier Joe Savikataaq in a statement. "All Nunavummiut should continue to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and stay home if you are feeling unwell.

"I wish all the best for the patient and the people of Sanikiluaq."

The positive case does not affect the current travel bubble with the Northwest Territories and Churchill Manitoba, the release says.

Anyone who has reason to believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 is advised to call the COVID-hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. or notify their community health centre right away and immediately isolate at home for 14 days.

Residents are asked to avoid going to the health centre in person.

Officials are scheduled to provide an update at a 2:30 p.m. ET news conference. You can watch it here or on our CBC North Facebook page.