Nunavut officials plead for Iqaluit residents to stop gathering during COVID outbreak

IQALUIT — Nunavut's health minister says he wants Iqaluit residents to stop gathering so the city has a shot at a normal summer.

Lorne Kusugak scolded residents Friday at a news conference as a COVID-19 outbreak continued in the city of about 8,000 people.

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"We have a very short summer and it seems it's getting shorter by the day," Kusugak said.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, said a recent gathering between multiple households in the city resulted in children becoming infected.

Public health measures in Iqaluit currently restrict all indoor and outdoor gatherings, but Patterson said the city's new cases have been linked to parties.

On Friday, 12 more cases of COVID-19 were reported in Iqaluit, which declared its first case on April 14, bringing the city's active case total to 78. There were 264 people in isolation.

Three Iqaluit residents with COVID-19 have been hospitalized in Ottawa and another has been released.

Kusugak pleaded with residents to follow public health measures.

"It means stopping your gatherings now. If people want to come to your house for a party, tell them to go away. This is pretty simple stuff."

Patterson said public health officials are seeing continued exposure to COVID-19 through "unsafe gatherings."

"Whether it's parties, playing outside with friends from other households without wearing masks or visiting in homes," he said.

Patterson warned there is an increased risk that essential services will be affected if more people have to isolate because of COVID-19.

"As long as people continue to gather in unsafe ways, the virus will continue to spread."

On Thursday, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the land-claim body that represents Inuit in Nunavut, called on the territorial government to offer paid sick leave for workers.

NTI said sick leave isn't available to many of the territory's private-sector workers, especially those who are considered essential workers.

"It is unacceptable that employees who are sick cannot afford to stay home," NTI president Aluki Kotierk said in a statement.

"We all need to do our part to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 and this is one area in which we believe the GN (Nunavut government) can make a positive impact right now as well as a lasting impact for future generations."

Premier Joe Savikataaq said the government hasn't made a decision on paid sick leave, but it is looking at options.

"No definite decisions have been made yet, but I agree that if you're sick we ask everyone to stay home ... So we're here to help," Savikataaq said.

Iqaluit is currently the only place in Nunavut with active cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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