Manitoba's most northern First Nations manage to keep COVID-19 out, but worry about restrictions loosening
Leaders say they're concerned about reopening of winter roads, relaxing of restrictions
Manitoba's three most northern and isolated First Nations have managed to keep COVID-19 out of their communities for the most part, with one community only reporting one case since the pandemic began.
However, some community leaders say they're worried that the reopening of winter roads — and the reopening of the Manitoba economy — could change that.
John Clarke, a councillor in Barren Lands First Nation, said the community just reported its first case of COVID-19 last weekend.
Three people were identified as close contacts, but they all tested negative, he said.
"It's worked out for so long, and we're very glad that we haven't had many COVID cases in the last close to a year now," he said during a news conference organized by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak about how Manitoba's most Northern First Nations have been affected by COVID-19.
Clarke said he was concerned about how public health orders are being relaxed again, given that many cases on First Nations have been linked to travel for health care.
"We've seen this virus spread like wildfire in other communities when most cases come from medical travelers," he said.
"It seems that the province doesn't consider the northern communities and the leadership before they go and open up these restrictions they had in place."
The opening of winter roads also brings with it concerns about inter-community travel and hunters.
While the First Nation has been under lockdown and not letting non-community members in, many hunters hire community members as their guides, he explained, which creates a risk for everybody.
That being said, vaccines are starting to flow to these remote communities, if only in small quantities.
In Sayisi Dene Denesuline Nation, near Tadoule Lake, Chief Evan Yassie said they received 60 doses in total in January for the community of about 400 people, and were able to vaccinate most of the elders in the community along with a few health-care workers.
Barren Lands First Nation also received about 60 doses in January, Clarke said. Chief Simon Denechezhe of Northlands Denesuline First Nation said they received about 100 doses, which enabled them to vaccinate most of the elders over 65 in the community of just over 1,000 people.
A second allotment of 5,300 Moderna vaccines for First Nation communities is scheduled to arrive later this month, which will provide second doses to elders and health-care workers who had received their first dose, a news release from MKO said.