Rapid spread of COVID-19 spurs plea for 'true action' on Nunavut's housing crisis

·2 min read
Rapid spread of COVID-19 spurs plea for 'true action' on Nunavut's housing crisis

If someone you live with has COVID-19, you'll almost certainly get it yourself, says Nunavut's chief public health officer.

During a news conference Thursday, Dr. Michael Patterson said once one person in a Nunavut household tests positive for the virus, evidence has shown that there is almost a 100 per cent chance everyone else in that household will catch the virus as well.

That news came as Premier P.J. Akeeagok said the territory needs short-term and long-term solutions to the years-long housing crisis. The territory has now cases of COVID-19 in 12 of its communities and is bracing for the Omicron variant to reach all 25.

"We know that overcrowding is contributing to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in our communities," Akeeagok said.

"As such, our government will continue to advocate for housing for Nunavummiut."

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller acknowledged the problem when he visited Iqaluit last July in his previous role as Indigenous Services minister.

He said then that overcrowded housing was "a vehicle for spread" during a COVID-19 outbreak in Arviat that infected 339 and killed one.

"For Nunavummiut, that's not a surprise," Miller said at the time.

COVID-19 complicating an already pressing housing shortage

Nunavut leaders have sought help to address the housing crisis for years, most notably former MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who took time off from her duties after a tour of housing conditions in the territory left her feeling depressed and anxious.

"The visits to these homes proved to be overwhelming for me. I was devastated to see the conditions under which my constituents were living. What's worse, I heard repeatedly that they had been living under these grossly unhealthy conditions for years," she wrote in her report.

Housing was the top issue among Nunavut's three candidates in the most recent federal election, and is listed as the top priority for the territorial government.

David Gunn/CBC
David Gunn/CBC

Akeeagok said he met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December, just before the COVID-19 cases in Nunavut began climbing, but the situation has become more dire since that meeting.

He pointed to Pangnirtung as an example. That community was already dealing with a tuberculosis outbreak, and now is dealing with COVID-19 cases on top of that.

"It has exemplified the urgency for true action and it's felt right across the territory," he said of the pandemic.

In all, he noted the territory needs 3,500 housing units to address the crisis, at a cost of $2 billion.

The housing crisis has been linked to other challenges in the territory, from the frequency of lower respiratory tract infections in children to high suicide rates and poor education outcomes.

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