Nfld. & Labrador

Innu Nation demands Quebec workers entering Muskrat Falls site isolate 14 days outside Labrador

Nalcor is standing down on its plan to send specialized workers to the project site after Innu leaders requested a longer quarantine time.

Nalcor planned to send 6 workers to Labrador without 14-day quarantine

Eugene Hart, chief of the Sheshatshiu First Nation, says essential workers entering from outside the province should stay away from Labrador until a 14-day quarantine has been completed in Newfoundland. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Innu Nation leaders are asking Nalcor for stricter precautions after the Crown corporation planned to send workers from Quebec to Labrador without a 14-day quarantine.

Eugene Hart, chief of the Sheshatshiu First Nation, told CBC he got a call Sunday that a chartered flight would arrive with six of the workers on board.

He was told those workers had entered the province from Quebec and isolated for seven days, rather than the 14 recommended by health officials in this province. 

"They wanted to finish their days here, I guess," he said.

Under public health rules, essential workers from outside the province do not need to isolate for 14 days. 

Nalcor said the workers isolated in St. John's for seven days and then received two negative COVID-19 tests. 

A Nalcor spokesperson clarified that those essential workers would indeed have carried out their remaining isolation while working at Muskrat Falls. Measures would have included self-isolating while not working, working in isolation and living in a separate complex, which is permitted under public health guidelines.

"After 14 days in the province and several negative for COVID-19 test results, these workers could then work around others at site and live in the main accommodations facility," the spokesperson said in an email to CBC Tuesday.

Nalcor said it scrapped the plan after speaking to Innu leaders, and says it is committed to working together to address concerns.

"While we are comfortable with all the health and safety measures we have put in place at the Muskrat Falls site … we agreed to delay travel for these six workers from outside Newfoundland and Labrador until their 14 days of isolation in St. John's was completed," the statement said.

Plan inappropriate: Hart

When Hart heard the plan, he relayed his concerns to Nalcor. "My message to them was let them finish their quarantine in St. John's," Hart said.

"We don't know who's carrying this virus. It could have been one of these people doing the isolation."

Many of those working at Muskrat Falls live in small, remote communities across Labrador, and return to their homes after their rotation.

Installation and commissioning of critical equipment is ongoing for the Lower Churchill project. (Nalcor Energy)

Immunization programs began Monday in Makkovik and Tuesday in Rigolet, while Sheshatshiu residents are slated to begin receiving the Moderna vaccine next week.

With those communities wary of exposure until they reach widespread immunity, Hart says they can't be too careful. 

"I don't think that's appropriate, to bring in people from outside when there's a big lockdown in Quebec and Ontario," he said. 

"We're fine so far here in Labrador, but it only takes one person bringing it in and it goes like wildfire."

Nalcor said workers from within the province headed back to work on Saturday. They were not required to isolate, and Hart says the Innu Nation doesn't see a problem with travel within the province.

The energy firm says it required outside workers for highly specialized work. 

"If you're coming in from another province, that's a totally different ball game," Hart said.

"We're in a small place.… We don't want to take a chance."

The Department of Health told CBC it was not aware and not involved with the situation, as essential workers are designated by the employer.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning and Carolyn Stokes