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7 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 reported at Nunavut's Hope Bay Mine

If the tests are confirmed as positive by a southern lab, they could count as Nunavut's first cases.

If tests are confirmed positive by southern lab they could count as Nunavut's first cases

The Hope Bay gold mine on June 8, 2017. The Nunavut government is reporting seven presumptive positive cases at the mine, which is 125 kilometres southwest of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (Submitted by Alex Buchan/TMAC)

The government of Nunavut is reporting seven new presumptive positive COVID-19 cases at TMAC Resources Inc.'s Hope Bay Mine, 125 kilometres southwest of Cambridge Bay.

Right now there is no established link between these new cases and two previous confirmed positive cases at the mine.

If these tests come back positive from a southern lab, they will count as Nunavut's first COVID-19 cases, the territorial government said in a news release on Monday.

"These latest cases lead us to believe there is transmission of COVID-19 at the Hope Bay Mine. For the safety of all employees at the site, we have deployed our Rapid Response Team," Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said in the news release. 

"The team, including two nurses and a logistician, is trained to trace, track and contain the virus to help reduce the risk of further transmission." 

Territorial Health Minister George Hickes says there are no Nunavut residents currently working at the Hope Bay Mine.

"Although this is a serious situation, the risk to Nunavummiut is very low," said Hickes.

The government says TMAC Resources contacted the office of the chief public health officer last Friday about an employee with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

The Health Department worked with on-site medical staff to swab the symptomatic employee and their contacts, the government says. The presumptive positive cases and all known contacts have been isolated and contact tracing is underway.

The government says that in response to the presumptive cases, all non-essential travel to and from the mine, including scheduled shift changes, has been cancelled until further notice.

2 previous cases didn't count toward Nunavut case number

Two positive COVID-19 cases were confirmed at the mine on Sept. 19, but because both people were exposed in their home jurisdictions prior to travelling to the mine, they didn't count toward Nunavut's count.

When those two cases were confirmed, a spokesperson for the premier said they wouldn't count as Nunavut cases because they didn't originate in the territory. CBC News asked for clarification as to why the new cases, if confirmed, would count toward Nunavut's number. 

In response, Chris Puglia, a Nunavut Health Department spokesperson, said pending confirmed results they would "likely" be counted as Nunavut cases, "however, this will be finalized following discussions with the individuals' home jurisdictions and assessment of where transmission occurred."

There are currently no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut.

In the Monday press release, the government says the situation at the Hope Bay mine doesn't affect existing public health measures or the travel bubbles with Churchill, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories.  

Hope Bay is not the only mine in the territories affected by the coronavirus. A case was confirmed at Mary River mine, 176 kilometres southwest of Pond Inlet, Nunavut, on Sept. 21, and two cases were confirmed at Northwest Territories' Diavik Diamond Mine this summer.

The Nunavut government reminds anyone with a reason to believe they've been exposed to COVID-19 to call its hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. or their community health centre and isolate at home for 14 days. 

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