Nunavut politicians aren't using quarantine exemption, says health minister

·3 min read

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes says so far, none of the territory's politicians have applied to bypass a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine in order to return from southern Canada.

Since August, a public health exemption has allowed Nunavut's members of the Legislative Assembly, the territory's member of Parliament and its senator to skip the government-run isolation required for all residents returning from the South.

The isolation exemption is only for travel related to parliamentary, Legislative Assembly, and constituency business. The travel must be approved by public health authorities, and does not extend to elected officials' staff or family members.

"There have been politicians back and forth and nobody has applied for that exemption," Hickes said in the legislature on Tuesday.

But Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main says his constituents feel it is unfair that political leaders can get exempt from the hotel quarantine.

"I didn't think that was possible, to be honest, to find something less popular than the isolation hubs, but here we have it," said Main. "The exemption to a 14-day isolation requirement [for politicians] is even more unpopular with my constituents."

I didn't think that was possible, to be honest, to find something less popular than the isolation hubs, but here we have it. - John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove

Using examples of his own constituents, Main said new mothers are required to quarantine with their infants, and one medical traveller spent 29 days in a hotel in total, after they needed to go back to the hospital because of health complications.

"What was the reasoning for giving an exemption to elected officials?" Main asked.

Public health officials say the isolation hotels are a main reason why there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut communities.

As of Monday, there were 768 Nunavut residents in two-week quarantines in hotels in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife.

Beth Brown/CBC
Beth Brown/CBC

Only for an emergency, Hickes says

Hickes said there has been a lot of "confusion and concern" from the public about the exemption.

On Monday, the first day of this week's special pandemic-related sitting of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly, Hickes said he can't imagine what it's like to do the quarantine and hopes he doesn't have to.

"What started this [exemption] was a national dialogue with regards to our members of parliament or through our members of our senate and their ability to be able to return home and get back to work as needed," Hickes said on Tuesday.

That's work related to the pandemic, he said.

Hickes said the exemption might be used for an urgent federal meeting, to make sure Nunavut's voice is heard.

"I understand the value of why it's there. I don't anticipate anyone using it unless it's absolutely necessary," he said.

Like a critical worker, when a politician returns home they would have to self-isolate when not at work, keep physically distanced at work and wear a mask when that isn't possible.

It's in line with what politicians across Canada are doing, Hickes said. An exemption was made early on for the senator and member of parliament.

"Dr. Patterson felt that it was very important to make sure out of pure openness and transparency, that provincial and territorial legislators also had that availability," Hickes said.

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who recently visited multiple communities as part of a housing tour, is known to have done multiple hotel quarantines before travelling from the South.

House Speaker Paul Quassa announced Monday that MLAs can't use their constituency budgets to travel South. The government's Financial Management Board made this decision.

MLAs however, don't typically need to travel South for work.