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T he Cree Health Board confirmed one new case of Covid in December, linked to a banquet event for students in the Ottawa/Gatineau region. The case involves a person from Waswanipi who is isolating outside the community.

The CHB said that contact tracing is taking place, and that over 30 people in Waswanipi have been tested, while others are isolating and awaiting testing. They indicated that more positive cases may be identified as the investigation evolves.

The case comes as concerns rise over Omicron, a new Covid variant. Health authorities around the world are scrambling to determine if this new variant poses extra risk of infection, mortality, or an ability to evade vaccines.

The CHB is monitoring the variant and its presence in Quebec but noted that the Delta variant is still dominant. So far there has only been one case of Omicron detected in the province, from a traveller who returned from Nigeria in November.

According to a New York Times report, there was no evidence yet that the new variant is more transmissible, but there is some evidence that it can reinfect people more easily. This hints that the virus may be more able to evade the body’s immune system. Regardless, it did not seem to present any more risk of hospitalization or death so far.

Meanwhile, the fourth wave, which had shown signs of a retreat, remains in full swing, with nearly 1,200 cases of Covid being detected in one day, the highest case count since April. This has led a Quebec health institute to say they expect hospitalizations to rise in the coming weeks by perhaps 30%, as infections have doubled over the past month.

Despite growing concern, Premier François Legault increased indoor gathering limits from 10 to 20 for the holidays even though Health Minister Christian Dubé urged Quebecers to seriously reconsider any planned travel over the holidays in light of the new variant. Indoor private gatherings of up to 50 people are still allowed in Eeyou Istchee.

The Cree Nation Government and the Cree Health Board implemented new measures, such as relocating meetings from the south to Eeyou Istchee – or cancelling them altogether – until after the holidays. The CHB also urged all travelers and workers to get regular screening tests, even if they are vaccinated. The CHB said it would provide more guidelines for holiday gatherings.

Meanwhile, the outbreak of Covid in many Nunavik communities continued to be a serious situation. Travel between Ungava Bay and Hudson Bay is limited to essential services, and travelers are asked to check with Whapmagoostui public security for updates on local measures.

Patients and escorts travelling south by charter under Wiichiihiituwin are being asked to either show a proof of double vaccination or a negative covid test from within three days before flying. Even if patients are fully vaccinated, they will then need a negative Covid test from Montreal, Val-d’Or or Chibougamau to fly back home.

Vaccinations for children aged 5-11 have begun in Eeyou Istchee, with Wemindji launching a campaign to get children vaccinated with a firetruck. Clinic, public safety and fire department staff wore superhero costumes as 81 children were vaccinated the first day. “Everyone participated,” Head Nurse Michael Moutquin said. “We all want our people to get vaccinated and get that protection. This is a community effort.”

The Cree School Board announced that schools will continue online for the first two weeks after the Christmas break, January 4-14. Work packages will be distributed, and each school will provide schedules and details.


Benjamin Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nation

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