Nunavut's reopening plan could come next week, say officials

Nunavut's premier announced the territory's public health emergency has been extended for two more weeks until May 28, while health officials say they are working to finalize a plan to gradually reopen services.

The Health department says that plan should be announced next week, with daycares and parks as the first services to potentially open.  

The developments were announced at a news conference Thursday. With no cases of COVID-19 in the territory, officials also say they will cut back their weekly news conferences from three to two days a week.

Premier Joe Savikataaq will now give updates on the territory's COVID-19 response on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Legislative Assembly, starting at 3 p.m. ET. 

As of May 13, 289 people are being investigated in Nunavut for symptoms of COVID-19. 

Delays to get testing machine up and running 

On Monday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said he hoped to see a test machine in Rankin Inlet called a GeneXpert receive approval from Health Canada this week, but he said it's happening slower than expected. 

The GeneXpert is also used in Nunavut to test for tuberculosis. 

"The machine appears to be working fine. Staff are not familiar with the machine. We need to make sure they can receive and process the samples," he said, adding staff need to be able to do so without exposing themselves to COVID-19 or tuberculosis. 

The GeneXpert in Iqaluit can test four swabs at a time for COVID-19 and takes around an hour to finish the test process, according to Patterson. 

The department wants to make sure the diagnostics are set up to last for months, or longer. COVID-19 is going to be around for awhile, he noted. 

"It's worth taking the extra time to make sure that it's done right," Patterson said. 

Cambridge Bay is not able to set up diagnostics right now, he added. 

Missed the news conference? Watch it here: 

Nunavut will pay to quarantine southern labourers

While Nunavut's construction season is able to go ahead, Health Minister George Hickes said labourers from the south will not be considered essential workers. 

"They would have to go through the 14-day isolation period," he said.  

But the government has contractual obligations to companies for projects, and stalling that work would cost the government too, he said.  

Right now, the Nunavut government is planning to pay for workers to isolate for 14-days prior to coming to work in Nunavut. Hickes said construction workers could start entering isolation as early as next week.

This week, the federal government announced $30.8 million for Nunavut's business sector. Hickes said this will be crucial to outfitters and community businesses that rely on the tourism industry, which is largely cancelled this year because cruise ships will not be travelling to the territory.  Savikataaq also warned Nunavummiut about applying for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit if you don't need it.   "This is not free money, it is considered income," he said. "It is a taxable benefit intended to help people who have been laid off or who have been impacted by the pandemic. If your circumstances have not changed because of COVID-19, you should not access this program."