Nunavut minister says rapid testing, isolation at home can't replace isolation in southern hotels

·2 min read

Nunavut's health minister says the territorial government is looking at other ways Nunavummiut can quarantine besides having to stay in hotels in the South. But he says rapid testing for COVID-19 isn't going to solve the issue.

"We don't want to play with fire and we don't want to play with COVID-19 in the territory. And anybody that has been tested is required to self-isolate until such time as those results come in," said Health Minister George Hickes.

In the legislature on Monday, Pat Angnakak, MLA for Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu, asked about the costs for the government associated with required isolation for travellers coming into the territory.

Specifically, Angnakak asked whether the costs of rapid testing and isolation at home has been compared to the cost of paying for people to isolate in hotels in the South.

"Our government has spent … millions of dollars on operating isolation hubs outside of Nunavut," she said. "Can the minister clearly explain why alternative options for travellers to Nunavut are not being implemented?"

Beth Brown/CBC
Beth Brown/CBC

Angnakak cited rapid testing as one alternative option, where results can be delivered sooner.

Angnakak added that Greenland is doing things for much cheaper, as people have to show proof of a negative test upon arrival, then go into self-isolation before taking another test. If the follow-up test is negative, the person no longer has to isolate.

Angnakak said she wants to know if the minister has considered a similar protocol for travellers to Nunavut.

Overcrowding, false sense of security

But Hickes says those options aren't necessarily possible in Nunavut.

While the government has been looking into models from all around the world, including Greenland's model, Hickes said the risk is "too great to go down that path."

That's especially so, since he says issues with homelessness and overcrowding in Nunavut means not everyone can properly self-isolate.

"It would be very difficult for every member of our society to be able to self-isolate when they came home and to do so safely," Hickes said.

He added that rapid testing gives a "false sense of security" and could lead to community transmission.

Hickes said the government is "exploring ways to minimize" the impact of COVID-19 on the territory and is looking at options to shorten isolation stays using rapid testing.